T has been with us for about 6 months. He is 10 years old and is diagnosed with ASD though it seems quite mild. Some of his symptoms that are attributed to ASD could also be just down to the fact that T is a 10 year old boy. In general he is a very happy lad but one who has moments of anxiety and has some problems dealing with his emotions. Because of his condition he does get fixated on things so he has a strong passion for cars and certain movies and TV programmes and at the moment he has a sometimes unhealthy obsession with Loom Bands (tiny little elastic bands that the kids make into bracelets).
I am married with three children, one at home, one at University and one living just down the road, and I am the main carer as my wife has a full time job as an Assistant Principal at a Sixth Form College.
Friday 13th March – Thursday 19th March
What can I say about Electric toys, especially the games consoles? The fixation with the screen, especially the little Gameboy ones, the anxiety they cause when things go wrong or they lose a life and most importantly the arguments that ensue when, as adults, we try to limit their use because we think it’s unproductive and unhealthy. It all seems a bit much some days in our house I can tell you. And now with mobile phones it has become an even bigger issue and one that can be such a nightmare to manage and the cause for a great deal of unsettled times in the home. And to add to that when foster children arrive in your house sometimes the only thing that they have is a PlayStation, a Gameboy or a phone, or sometimes one of each. How fair is it for us to restrict their use when for some this could be one of the only ways they can escape from a world that they don’t understand or was the way that they escaped in the past? It is after all a safe place that they have complete control over.
That is certainly the case with T who, as a fostered Autistic child, desperately wants to exert some control over his life. In fact, he needs to have that control to help him feel safe. And that’s fine, I get it. I remember the wonderful feeling I used to get when I played computer games even when it was on a ZX Spectrum computer; the sense of satisfaction in my life to be able to get right the way through a game but also the obsession to have to keep trying over and over again when I failed. I also remember how many hours I spent on it with my friend but then I was 18 and by rights was making my own decisions. If I wanted to waste a whole night playing on a game then so be. I was paying my own bills so it was my choice. But that was when we only had a few games and it would take ages just to load one game. I can’t think what it must be like to be 10 and to have all these brilliant games at your my fingertips. The temptation to play must be huge.
So, as I’m sure you can gather, we have had a few problems this week with electric toys. And to be honest it is the biggest source of problems in all the time T has been with us if I had to name one. T has a PSP (hand held PlayStation console), a 3D DS (hand held Nintendo), a portable DVD player plus several remote control cars. My daughter has an older PlayStation 2 and the family has a Wii too which are connected to the TV downstairs which T also plays on. All of T’s came with him when he arrived which is lucky for him because I believe we would have held back from so many if we had had a choice. We were already aware of issues that can stem from them as we had quite a few problems with our own son especially with Game Boys because, we believe, the screens are so small that they get completely sucked in and find it hard to come out of them again when they are asked too. Sometimes I think it is genuine that they have not heard you when you tell them it is time to stop because they are so involved but that doesn’t help any, does it? Plus, because they can stick the portable ones on under the bed covers at night they are too easily a temptation when you are not about. Our daughters did not engage that much, not that girls don’t play it’s just ours didn’t as much, though I expect that would have been different if they were young now with mobile phones being so common.
One of the benefits of these games consoles though is that they can be used as a reward. So in our house T has to bring a good school report home during the week and he also has to complete all homework first before he gets his hour on whatever console he wants to play on. He gets an hour a day but it is different at the weekend, there is no homework, but usually we have it that he has to come out for a dog walk first before he can play on the them. And on top of that we have recently introduced a new sanction for when T completely loses it and has a major tantrum. Because we know he can control himself when he starts we decided that if he continued bashing and smashing around after we gave him a warning then he would lose his ‘electrics’ for 24 hours. You would be amazed how quickly he learned to control his temper. Agreed he can’t always control himself when it starts, it is part of his Autism, but after the warning he can and so this sanction does really work.
So back to this week; the problem we have had with T recently is he has been playing his DS secretly. So on Tuesday when he did not come out of his room for school until it was almost time to leave and so made himself very late so that he almost missed his taxi and had to skip breakfast. I realised that we had to do something because I believed he was on his DS. I don’t know for definite because I could not go in his room and catch him because he was dressing, supposedly, but I do strongly believe he was on it. Later, after school, when I asked him he said he was reading and playing LEGO. Now this seemed like a little white lie to me, reading, a 10 year old boy, come on, but he would not admit it so we had to go with what he said. But because of this we decided that the DS had to live downstairs where we could see it. We have done this before, when he was found playing it when he was meant to be having a bath, so it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to him. He shouldn’t need it without asking us anyway. But this time he completely flipped out and when I had the console in my hand he accused me of stealing. The raging and ranting lasted long enough to go through a warning and so, ironically, he lost his electrics for 24 hours so it definitely was not a good thing for him.
It’s a difficult one I think. On the one level I am happy for him to play once a day for an hour as it is a good reward and he enjoys it and if I’m honest it gives me some time. He usually plays while I make the dinner during the week and on the weekend I can sit and read the paper so that’s good. In fact when he loses his electrics it usually means that I have to work harder on keeping him occupied so I would definitely prefer it if he kept them. And with the PlayStation he always plays driving games which fulfils part of his autistic obsession with cars. He doesn’t so much drive them to win races it is rather that he goes around the track as if he was in a proper car practicing parking and 3-point turns, so it is quite useful for him. But on another level to protect himself from using them it does mean that he lies to us if he has been playing on them when he is not meant to. And when he is playing on one he can be very rude if he is asked to do something or time is up and he has to turn it off.
We will have to be strict about this now because when he gets to Secondary school it will become more intense I think and scarily he is now regularly talking to us about getting a phone too. He tells us his Mum is going to buy one for him which I am trying very hard to stop or at least get into a conversation with her about the problems that may come from that. He is only 10 and so I don’t believe he needs a phone anyway; maybe at Secondary school but definitely not before. And a phone won’t be just about the games he can play either. With a phone it will be about how much internet access he can get and how we monitor it. Mum wants to get him a monthly contract, or so he tells us, but I think it will be blocked by the fostering agency because it will allow him the chance to phone and text Mum which will go against their contact arrangement. We’ll have to see on that one. But until then we will keep going with our plan so that he knows this is not something he will just have and be able to play when he wants. Wish us luck!