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TV & Media, Exacerbation In Autism; The Brain Becomes What The Brain Does

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Psycologist have done some research into the affects of differing media on our youth. Associate Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University, Douglas Gentile, makes a remarkable observation when addressing the possible effect of rapid-pacing; it is in the type of media to which most of our very young and school age children are exposed.

From the above linked article: Gentile reports that the pace of television programming has been quickened by "the MTV effect."

"When MTV came on, it started showing music videos that had very quick edits -- cuts once every second or two," Gentile said. "Consequently, the pacing of other television and films sped up too, with much quicker edits."

"He says that quicker pace may have some brain-changing effects when it comes to attention span.

"Brain science demonstrates that the brain becomes what the brain does," Gentile said. "If we train the brain to require constant stimulation and constant flickering lights, changes in sound and camera angle, or immediate feedback, such as video games can provide, then when the child lands in the classroom where the teacher doesn't have a million-dollar-per-episode budget, it may be hard to get children to sustain their attention."

The study which involves consideration of our more typically developing children - will be published in Pediatrics in August. It appears that it is available on line now. The team involved in this research is: Edward Swing, an Iowa State psychology doctoral candidate - Douglas Gentile, an Associate Professor of psychology - Craig Anderson, a Distinguished Professor of psychology.

The fact that brain research indicates that the brain becomes what the brain does should cause many to consider the unique effects it can have for particular populations. What about those in the autism spectrum who are more severely affected?

Throughout my daughter's several years worsening psychosis we figured out that TV actually aggravated her - in that there were triggers in the sights, sounds and message of the differing programs that exacerbated catatonic presentations. Some of the triggers were identifiable and there are probably other triggers that we will never identify. Fact is there is feasibility in the argument that associative thoughts triggered by the TV content can result in adding to already faulty neural underpinnings that have already lent themselves to imagery, hallucination and catatonia. Not all the triggers are necessarily things that are bad, they were simply present during a time when other challenges (inward or outward) were present. Thus the associative component.

An interesting observation in Dr. Sack's, Musicophilia - with regard to if there was sense to songs or scenes that manifest as some kind of hallucinatory process. "The selection of hallucinatory music, he concluded, was 'quite at random, except that there is some evidence of cortical conditioning' " Dr. Sacks furthers this by mentioning, "But something may start randomly - a tic, for example, bursting out of an overexcited basal ganglia - and then acquire associations and meaning." Essentially this is understood by me to mean, that while the tic itself was a result of the overexcited basal ganglia and nothing else - the tic becomes part of a neural repertoire because it immediately associates with whatever event was transpiring at the time that the tic burst forth. I don't know if rapid pulsing of some media could contribute to an over excited basal ganglia.

So as far as the brain becoming what the brain does, we hardly ever watch TV now. If we do it can't be things that remind my daughter of her times of worsening psychosis. She actually determined for herself that she must get rid of things that are associated with her times of troubling psychosis. Per Hello, Dr. Wells:

(Upon returning home from an inpatient stay at Generose due to profound psychosis) After a good nights sleep, Sarah got into a little redecorating. Essentially she wanted to empty the house of all triggers, which was actually almost everything she used to play with. A new phrase she liked to use was "Get rid of it" and it did seem important to remove unnecessary stimulation, in order for Sarah's mind to have less occupation by her crowd of associations. Anti-decorating became the newest trend in our home. Gone were her large Mickey Mouse, her many movies with all their differing themes, her many toys, and other long time familiar things. Doing this served Sarah well because it seemed to result in significantly less anxiety for her, making our home a place for her mind to rest. It was not that the items were bad; it was that some of the associations that they represented caused conflict for Sarah. 


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