Turn It Off

Over the past 3 years, Everett has had a phobia of TVs. It ebbs and flows in regards to intensity but it hasn’t ever gone away. It just showed up one day and changed our lives. I understand how that sounds, but before this phobia the tv was on most of the time whether it was being watched or not. My best guess is that it all started with a commercial Everett saw while watching a football game. After Brett and I divorced, I quit watching football on TV. It had been a big part of our life. In August, it would begin with fantasy football drafts and NFL exhibition games. And then college football would infiltrate around Labor Day and with Wheeler’s football schedule, there was only one day a week that we weren’t consuming football games. The first time I noticed Everett being very afraid of TVs was when we went to a restaurant that had multiple TVs hung around the dining rooms. I knew he was uncomfortable and didn’t want to be there but I didn’t understand why. We were seated at our table and he was fine, but he would randomly lay down in our booth and then pop up after a short time. It took about 30 mins of this to figure out that he was watching the TV in front of him (which was playing a football game) and as soon the commercials came on, he dove down low enough so he couldn’t see the TV.
And once again, Clay’s laissez faire demeanor proves to fit us perfectly. He can take or leave watching sports or TV in general. Over time, Everett has learned to navigate this phobia, and by manage I mean every house he walks into he immediately finds the remote and turns the TV off. But Super Bowl parties or sports related gatherings aren’t something we manage. We have some amazing friends who are willing to watch their own TVs on mute which Everett tolerates very well. When most kids think that it’s a treat to get to watch television at school, Everett panics. Everett watches some TV, but only if he gets to be in complete control. He is more tolerant of things like Netflix and Amazon Prime that don’t have commercials. I’ve cut off the satellite which I don’t miss as all and has saved us some money. He usually tries to hide the Roku remote from me. If I do turn it on, he comes running from whatever corner of the house he has been in and demand that I “Turn it off!!” My mom was visiting a couple of weeks ago and I had turned it on to find something for us to watch. While I’m browsing, Everett is forcefully dictating what I should choose to watch by reading all of the titles he thinks would be appropriate. He doesn’t relax until I’ve settled on something he has approved of. As we are going through this process, mom jokingly says to him, “Everett, you aren’t the boss of her.” I explained that in this scenario I let him be the boss. It is obvious that parenting a child with autism is so different than a neuro-typical child. But this is a perfect example of this. I would have never let Wheeler stand next to me and decide what he was willing to let me watch on television. With Everett, managing his anxiety and making sure that he feels safe at home is extremely important. To say that I pick my battles with him is the understatement of the century. My goal is to have an environment that challenges him, but doesn’t break the trust he has in me to keep him safe. He is currently cuddled up on the couch watching The Lion King on the new Disney+. He has been obsessed with The Lion King lately. Right now, the story parallels what Everett is going through with Brett’s death and the dialogue and story have helped him understand. I’m not sure that he will ever be completely comfortable with TVs. Anxiety is a part of Everett’s autism and managing it will always be a part of our life. Some days are easier than others, but in the end we live our lives not in fear of the anxiety that might show up but equipped with the tools to manage it when it does. And while some of you out there may think that a life without College Gameday is no life at all, Everett invites you to grab a crayon and hangout with him.

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