Television and the Autistic Child: Effects of Aggressive Programming

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Television and the Autistic Child:

Effects of Aggressive Programming

Nicolette Stoltman

University of Phoenix

Com 220

With few exceptions, the information on the effect of television on children has focused on normal (i.e., nonhandicapped) populations. The intention of this essay is to explore the impact of the medium of television on Autistic children because their use of and reaction to television may differ from that of the larger population. This essay will provide an overview of the research that has examined television and the Autistic child (the definition of “Autistic” varies along a spectrum of included disorders. Common markers for an Autistic disorder are oppositional behavior, over activity, aggressivity and emotional and cognitive ability). Current research assumes that in order for television content to affect a viewer, the viewer must be exposed to content, accept the message and adopt behaviors or attitudes portrayed and comprehend the content in some degree.

A literature review located only two recent studies that examined the viewing habits of Autistic children. Surveys (Donohue, 1998; Fracchis et al., 2001) show that Autistic children watch more aggressive programs and prefer aggressive over nonaggressive television characters. Viewing habits comparisons reveled that Autistic children watched more television than the normal child. Children with Autism are known withdraw to television. Autistic children watched more physically violent programs and cartoons and named those programs as their favorite than did the normals. Both programming choices contain high-levels of aggressive behavior many Autistic children find violent or aggressive content visually stimulating. Furthermore, Autistic children viewed cartoons more hours. Cartoons offer the Autistic child a skewed view of the real world. Some of these children use cartoon viewing as a coping skill, as some are unable to handle real problems and work out issues. The literature of these two studies has conclusively documented the differences in viewing habits between Autistic and normal children.

Despite the seeming vulnerability of Autistic children to televisions’ adverse effects, there has been little research bearing on this issue. A review of the recent literature located only investigation that was relevant to this topic, an early study by Walters and Willows (1994) that showed Autistic children became more aggressive toward toys after viewing a videotape of an aggressive model. The study suggests Autistic children became more aggressive following exposure to aggressive cartoons, but in the latter instance the control cartoons produced the same effect. Autistic children appear to become more aggressive or noncompliant following cartoons. Autistic children also experienced irritability and withdrawal; however, the problematic is not al all clear from existing data. Autistic children are known to absorb and mimic from their surroundings. External stimuli, either visual or auditory, affects the Autistic child more profoundly their normal peers. Arousal rather than modeling mechanisms seem to be involved, but further research is needed to clarify what television stimulus, child and setting characteristics determine the impact (Walter & Willows, 1994).

The Walters and Willows (1994) study also provided information, researched by Silverman, regarding Autistic children and the effects of nonaggressive television. [pic]

The study noted that altruistic behaviors increased for the children exposed to the prosocial television relative to those who did not. This facilitation of altruism was more pronounced for those who were above average on baseline measures of physical aggression. Verbal aggression (e.g., threats, teases, name calling) and aggression toward objects decreased in Autistic children exposed to nonaggressive programming. [pic]

Symbolic aggression decreased in the physically aggressive children who...
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