My posts have been pretty serious so far – so I thought I’d go a little lighter this time around. Here’s the latest info on what’s “in” for kids, including One Direction, Pottermore, Skylanders, Draw Something, Pawn Stars, Gotye, Hunger Games, My Little Pony Wedding, and Lego Mini-figures. Typical kids have radars for “what’s in”: they don’t need parents to to help them out with trends. But our kids with autism be stuck in their own intense interests and may be less aware of what kids their age are liking.
I haven’t always been very aware of pop culture, and I’m not a big fan of Buy Me That behavior from kids. Parents dealing with autism have enough financial challenges without having to buy every new toy, electronic gadget, and game system in the store. I am not suggesting that we should encourage our kids to engage in mindless consumption: we hope that they will be able to think critically about the culture of materialism. But before developing critical thinking, kids with autism need to learn basic conversational skills. We know popular culture impacts our kids: Barney, Elmo, and Dora are the first words of many children with autism. Visual images and music are highly motivating for kids with autism, so why do we abandon them when it comes to teaching conversation and social skills? Less verbal kids who are not ready for conversation skills may have more social opportunities when they can share excitement about current music and shows.
Parents of children with autism don’t have time to research current trends. Here’s the latest trends that I’ve been able to dig out. I’ve skipped over huge categories like sports–and there is still so much more to say about these categories!
Elementary Boys : Pokemon, Legos, Star wars, and Superheroes like Spiderman and Batman, are beloved by many boys, and a lot of girls too. You may not be as familiar with Skylanders: collectible characters which connect to a Wii platform, the more you collect, the more characters you have to play. The website Pottermore, with new interactive Harry Potter content, opened this week and is struggling to keep up with all the new member requests. Ninjagos, tiny battling Lego figurines on spinners, and Monsuno, another battling toy, both are linked to TV series and are popular among elementary aged boys. A 5 Below employee told me that $4 Lego mini-figures are so popular they can’t keep them in stock. She said that more Crazy Bones are sold when they are out of Lego mini-figures.
TV: Victorious, I-Carly, Phineas and Ferb, Monster High and American Idol along gain top TV ratings for elementary school kids, along with the long-time favorite Spongebob. For kids over twelve (at least!) you can add Glee, Family Guy and the Simpsons. All parents have questions about the appropriate age to phase in more graphic sexual and violent content, with tween 5th, 6th and 7th graders being in the gray area. These decisions are extremely important when kids don’t understand the complex social rules regarding what language to be used in what situation. Either pre-watch shows with questionable content, or at least watch them together so that you can take advantage of teachable moments. Movies with complex violent content like the Hunger Games and shows like Glee which introduce teen pregnancy and homosexuality are better waiting until at least middle school. Typical kids are usually aware of what’s popular in the teen demographic, even if they aren’t allowed to watch more mature content. Younger kids can learn about names of characters and basic plot, and can at times participate in a trend through Wii games Glee Karaoke and Just Dance even if they aren’t allowed to watch. Vampire and witch shows like Vampire Diaries are still in. Younger kids who haven’t watched or read any of the Twilight series will know about Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Big Bang Theory continues to get high ratings, it is especially appropriate for older Aspies who may identify with the quirky nerd ethic of the show. The Legend of Korra is the sequel to the Avatar, The Last Airbender and is a good bet to be popular among elementary boys. Doc Mcstuffins is a new favorite for preschoolers with an appealing theme about a girl who can talk to and heal stuffed animals. Reality shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers are unexpected favorites of many kids.
Music: Older elementary school kids start to become familiar with many pop singers such as Kellly Clarskson (Stronger), Katy Perry (Part of Me), Adele (Set Fire to the Rain), Flo rida (Good Feeling), Pitbull, LMFAO, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Drake….and we are all anxiously waiting for the release of the music video for Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend. I check Ryan Seacrest’s Top 40 website regularly to keep on top of new groups with unfamiliar names. Awareness of popular music often starts with preschoolers, who have delighted me with renditions of Rolling in the Deep (Adele), Moves like Jaggar (Maroon 5) , and Dynamite (Taio Cruz). We are Young by the pop band Fun featuring Janelle Monae will clearly take a permanent place among power anthems. Take advantage of your captive audience during car trips to therapy sessions and tune the radio to popular music. Selena Gomez is making the transition from tween star on Wizards of Waverly Place to an older teen demographic, and is taking advantage of all that publicity about her relationship with Justin Bieber.
Videos: viral videos are always popular, and sometimes there is a particularly hot video, other times I search and just find….puppies and kittens stuck in toilets and young children tripping and falling. The website Know Your Meme can keep you up to date on current viral videos and memes (the terms meme usually refers pictures with varying captions such as Lolcats). In searching for one “best” current viral video website, I saw that there were a variety of different lists focusing on misadventures of animals and children, popular music, commercials, and movies. Gotye (Go -Tee-Yuh) who performed on Saturday Night Live last week, could be a rising star or a one -hit wonder, but his music video is currently hot. His haunting song Somebody I Used to Know was featured on both American Idol and Glee last week. Older viral videos include bizarre favorites such as Danny after Dentist, Rebecca Black’s Friday, the Bed Intruder song, Shoes, Nyan Cat and Double Rainbow. Because many viral videos have sexual or drug related content or references, you will want to preview videos for tweens. However, once kids hit high school, if they’re anywhere in earshot of other teens, they’re hearing constant drug and sex related content, and watching a video together can offer an opportunity to sort out feelings and information on these topics. Adults may need to intentionally learn about Facebook, as viral videos and internet memes (pictures with humorous captions) are parts of teen culture that are not likely to disappear.
“Special Needs” parents may not have contact with parents who form life-time friendships on the bleachers at Little League while we hang with our autism friends at Miracle League. When kids are in special classrooms, we may not meet other parents at Back to School Night, music performances, and birthday parties. So when we try to strike up a conversation with other parents, they react to our anxious stories about the latest IEP meeting or our visit to the developmental pediatrician as if we were talking about the mating habits of pygmy marmosets. Talk about movies, music, and sports can fill the awkward conversational divide. For me, this is a particular issue, as I also work with kids with autism, and the conversation usually sags after “Bless your heart” or “You must be such a special person…..”.
Perhaps the best way to convince you of the importance of teaching kids with autism about popular culture is to invite you to think about the music, movies, and TV of your own childhood and teens. For those who grew up in the 6o’s and 70’s, imagine being unaware of the Beatles, the comic strip Peanuts, Star Wars, the Brady Bunch, or peace signs. I love my memories of going to see The Poseidon Adventure and Planet of the Apes with my best friend, and singing all of the verses to American Pie. I remember where I was when I found out that John Lennon was assassinated. Think about how popular culture played into so many of your childhood memories. I think we want that our kids to be included in the shared cultural memories of their generation.
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