Sunday, November 04, 2007

Double-edged iPod

I've written before about what a useful tool Bud's iPod is. It's especially helpful when we're out shopping - it helps him manage the crowds, the bustle, the noise. It helps him stay focused and calm.

But there is a flip side.

Bud's iPod seems to invite comment from the older generation. Occasionally the remarks are made to the air, but are clearly directed to me, and involve some sort of commentary on the technology-driven isolationism of kids today, with a subtext of judgment about parents who indulge their young children too much - all said, naturally, with a wink and a laugh. That stuff rolls off pretty easily.

More challenging to manage - and more common, unfortunately - are the comments directed to Bud himself. The comments themselves are innocent enough, but it's like the iPod is a magnet for them; we hear them nearly every time we're out in public.

In almost every case, it seems the stranger takes a look at Bud and surmises two things: 1) Bud is listening to music so loud that it would be difficult to hear a comment made to him, and 2) Bud's failure to engage with the strangers around him and his seemingly complete focus on the music he's hearing is an unintended side effect of the iPod and is not, in fact, Bud's intent.

So the stranger leans down to Bud and asks loudly (or, sometimes, even shouts): "WHAT DO YOU HAVE THERE?" or "WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?" or "CAN I HAVE A LISTEN?" or "HEY, WHAT'S PLAYING?" Bud inevitably pulls back and doesn't answer, which prompts the stranger to either move closer or talk louder or both.

I have not come up with a good response to this yet. Sometimes I try to engage the stranger myself, answering the question and shielding Bud from further interrogation ("He's listening to Dierks Bentley. He's a big fan.") Sometimes I pretend to engage Bud in my answer ("You're listening to Dierks Bentley, aren't you, Bud? You love his music.") And, occasionally, when my mom-sense tells me that this will continue unless I intervene more directly, I say "He's autistic. The iPod helps him feel more comfortable in crowds." I never know how Bud feels about that particular response, so I try to use it sparingly. For the most part, I just smile and nod, and try to get Bud away from the questioner as gracefully as possible.

I have to admit, though, the more it happens, the more I start thinking that the next time we go shopping, maybe I'll wear my iPod, too.

19 comments:

Daisy said...

The ipod sounds like a good tool for crowds. My son needs his hearing in crowds because he is blind as well.

Drama Mama said...

Why do people feel entitled to know? Would you ask an adult such questions? I know people are trying to be friendly, but sheesh...

redhead said...

i'm going to try the ipod thing with my son. sounds like a good idea. they even have a kid tough mp3 player that i'm looking into asking santa about.

as for comments from nosey strangers.....it's a huge pet peeve of mine. its rarely helpful. i keep saying that us moms of kids with autism need a handbook on dealing with rude people (even though they usually mean well, i know). I have an encounter almost every day and I never feel comfortable with my response.

Cheri said...

Children are taught not to talk to strangers, aren't they? Maybe the adult strangers need to be reminded of that when they are accosting your child - whether he is autistic or not.

Sometimes you have to be rude to rude people, regardless of their intent.

Maddy said...

Very interesting. We've completely skipped that particular issue as neither of them can tolerate ear-buds / headphones.

We go to the same supermarket with the same staff more or less. They always greet the children and talk to them and never get a response.

I never quite know what to do about it.
Best wishes

Spencer's Mom said...

I always respond with the truth. Now, depending on the tone of the comment, my 'truth' might be a bit snarky but once people understand the truth, I've found them to be understanding and judgements drop almost immediately. It's an opportunity to teach others about our kids and what they experience and it's an opportunity to teach my kid how to deal with people.

I'm comfortable with the truth and because people see that I'm comfortable, they seem to pick up on that vibe as well. Pretending that my kid is NT only gives people a reason to continue with their judgements.

I'm careful not to immediately label my kid to others but if they initiate conversation with him, that's when I engage.

We have an mp3 as well and it's an excellent relaxation tool for my son.

Casdok said...

Yes i try and think of a response before i go out, but i usually forget what it was!

kristina said...

"Do you have a Walkman"---ok, that is not nice. Sometimes I just try to restate the person's too obvious question with an affirmative "yes" and an ingratiating smile:

"Yes, he has an Ipod."

"Yes, it's iPod."

"Yes, the music is loud."

And then on we walk.

Ms. Clark said...

I wonder if he was wearing over the ear headphones instead of earbuds (I'm assuming he's wearing earbuds) if they'd leave him alone more. He might not like the feeling of headphones, I don't know.

Niksmom said...

I don't get why it's anybody's business. I mean, if he were wearing a Bluetooth headset for a cell phone, would they ask who he was talking to?

Perhaps you could simply say something like "Oh, he won't answer you, he's busy enjoying music" and walk on with a "Have a nice day" statement. Or maybe "Oh, he won't answer you; he's busy learning Russian (picka language) right now." ;-)

Ok, maybe not terribly helpful but geez, sometimes people really can be rude and intrusive. Sigh. They should be grateful he's not running screaming from aisle to aisle and toppling over displays (that would be my child in a couple of years, I think).

Kassiane said...

I wear rifle range headphones for the same reason Bud uses the ipod, and when asked the prying questions I do something equally rude:

"WHATCHA LISTENING TO?"

*glare that can kill*

"pure unadulterated silence"

MOM-NOS said...

Ms. Clark - Actually, he does use headphones. The earbuds are just too unwieldy.

Kassiane - Bud uses rifle range headphones at school, where iPods are problematic. They work just as well for him, too.

Teal said...

I completely agree with Cheri. As parents, we all try to drill into our kids' heads that talking to strangers is just not okay. So, isn't it a mixed message to expect a child to respond to a stranger? Shouldn't the stranger know this? Maybe a combo of what Niksmom suggested - "He's enjoying his music," and "and what a good boy he is, not talking to strangers just like we taught him," would work.

gretchen said...

A couple years ago, when I was first learning about ipods- investigating getting one for my husband- one of the students who worked in my office explained that sometimes she just PRETENDED to be listening to hers, so she didn't have to talk to anyone. She was nowhere on the spectrum, just wanted to be left alone sometimes!

I think Santa's going to bring Henry an ipod. Only problem with that is that the little brother always wants whatever Henry has...

Anonymous said...

I am with you on this one. My three year old son uses my ipod in times of difficulty. We've loaded some favorite videos and such.

We actually brought it to dinner (with a large number of people, mostly unfamiliar to him) at an Amish restaurant. Talk about bucking the system! I thought maybe we would be escorted out, but we were mainly the subject of many looks and whispers.

S

Steve said...

It's a fine line, but I think I'd rather have the intrusive questions/comments along with the I-don't-really-know-how-to-respond uncomfortableness (and believe me, I know the feeling) than live in a world where adults don't try to talk to kids. People are going to look (or even stare), there's just no getting around that. I'd much rather have them say something than wonder what's going on in their head.

Sezz said...

I'm interested to hear about Bud and his Ipod as mine has become increasingly clogged with Disney tunes as my Son borrows it when out and about. I think Santa will bring him his own.

Just tell people Bud's a musical genius and is concentrating on learning his music for grade 6 piano LOL Too busy to talk..

Anonymous said...

I am a high-functioning autistic individual and
have found that alogia is a much better method than
flustered silence for getting chatterboxes to bug off. An example:

Meddling Questioner: HEY, WHAT'S PLAYING?!

Listener: [putting iPod on "pause"] Nothing.

Meddling Questioner: YOUR iPOD'S JUST A $100 NECKLACE, THEN?

Listener: No, I have it on "pause."

Meddling Questioner: WHY'S THAT?

Listener: Because otherwise I couldn't hear you
talking.

Eventually the Meddling Questioner will get bored and wander away.

-- A.A.

loc said...

I have been think about ipods as a calming room. As you described except we include video Social story. Your son's generation did not question it at all.