My son is obsessed with the Teletubbies. He wasn’t always that way, in fact, back when he actually watched the Teletubbies; he could take them or leave them. I wasn’t too crazy about them when they came out either. Why would they make a kids show with characters who had a TV in their stomachs, were unintelligible, and frankly irritating to watch? I thought we were done with them when the show went off the air and they retired to a box under my son’s bed. Then, like a bad penny, they returned. During one of my recent organizing efforts, we found the Teletubbies among the junk under his bed. Dylan pulled them out, dusted them off, and put them on his bed. The next day he started to talk about the Teletubbies. He said that he had gone on the Teletubby website and read all about the Teletubbies. He reported that he had read the parent information pages and the program was designed to develop language through playing with sounds (so that’s why they say “eh-oh” for “hello”!) He researched how long the show ran, what countries it was broadcast in, and how many episodes were created. He downloaded and watched every episode, sometimes in several languages. Conversations with Dylan became centered around the Teletubbies. He refused to get up unless you greeted him in Teletubbian. He had us watch episodes he found on Youtube. He asked us Teletubby trivia questions. He quizzed us on the names and characteristics of each Teletubby. Teletubbies became the focus of his days. Grandma, who usually withheld comments about my parenting or my children’s choices, began to wonder about the depth of Dylan’s interest. One day she couldn’t help herself and asked, “Isn’t he too old for Teletubbies?” I have to admit, I had my worries too; but for the most part, we all indulged Dylan’s new obsession and tried not to admit that it seemed a bit weird.
After about a month of playing with Teletubbies, Dylan began to say he was the Teletubby's Dad. He identified with the fatherly voice at the end of each episode that tells the Teletubbies it is time to go to bed. Dylan began to put the Teletubbies to bed each night and get them up every morning. He sat them in front of his computer and played Teletubby episodes for them. He made them a car and a bed out of cardboard. He began to take them with him where ever we went. For example, on a recent outing to the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Teletubbies came with us and participated in all of the workshops and activities. I saw a few raised eyebrows from the teenage volunteers at the sight of this nearly five foot tall boy (who looks about 12) playing with and caring earnestly for his Teletubbies.
Dylan has never demonstrated much of an awareness of other’s emotions, initiated hugs or kisses, or seemed too concerned with other people’s feelings. Much of this behavior has to do with his sensory issues, so I have focused on empathy training and social development from the time he was very young. While I have seen incremental growth in this area, I’ve learned not to expect too much response to my efforts. So I got a pleasant surprise the other day. One of Dylan’s friends was having a meltdown (which usually makes Dylan run the other way) and while I was trying to comfort him, Dylan came over and gave him a gentle hug. A few days later he threw his arms around me and gave me a spontaneous hug. The next night when I kissed him goodnight he didn’t vigorously scrub the spot where I had kissed him. Then he told his sister that he loved her. A few days later I was sitting at the table trying to roll the kinks out of my neck and I felt a little hand rubbing my shoulders. I turned, expecting to see my daughter, and was surprised to see my son. “Are you okay Mommy?” he asked. (This is the same boy that demanded I play with him, completely oblivious to my tears over my Mom, and said he was mad at me when I told him I was too sad to play.) I turned to him and said, “I’m kind of tired tonight, I’ve had a rough week.” To which he replied, “I’ll help you Mommy,” and started to rub my shoulders. Wow! Something was happening! He seemed to be experiencing rapid growth in his emotional and social awareness.
As I hugged him tight a light bulb went off in my head. He is just now at the stage where he is emulating his Dad, pretending to be a parent, and experimenting with role play – all of which are necessary steps in developing healthy emotional and social behavior. I knew he was developmentally behind his age in those areas, his asynchronous development is acknowledged and supported here at home; but I had just not realized how large the gap was until the Teletubbies came into play. As I thought back over the last few months, it all fell into place. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this developmental stage happened at nine, he was still saying he wanted to marry me when he was seven. I don’t know why it took so long to click into place; but once it did, I felt such a deep sense of gratitude that I had not done anything to discourage his playing with the Teletubbies. Until now, I had not recognized how important to his emotional health and future social standing this past few months’ play has been. The Teletubbies have been pivotal in helping my son begin to recognize his feelings, empathize with others, and demonstrate his affection. So I take it all back! Here’s to you Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po…I owe you all a “BIG HUG, BIG HUG, BIG HUG!”