MIL Relentlessly Shames Parents for 'Letting' Boy With Autism Watch TV

Boy with tablet
@darby via Twenty20

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the help of family and friends can often be an amazing support system. But what do you do when the "support" turns into rude input? And what do you do when that critical person happens to be your mother-in-law? Those are some of the questions on one woman's mind when her mother-in-law began criticizing the fact that her grandson with autism is learning from Disney movies -- and in her opinion -- spending too much time watching TV.

  • The mom explained that her son with autism recently started speaking within this last year.

    In her letter to Slate's "Care and Feeding" parenting advice column, the mom explains that her 4-and-a-half year old son has autism and only recently began speaking. He's making great strides in his development. 

    "It has been absolutely amazing to see his progress from nonverbal to this sassy, opinionated little boy," the mom explains.

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  • The mom credits increased screen time for her son's newfound verbal skills.

    The boy has found interest in animation.

    "We find that the things he hyper-focuses on (like Disney franchises) really are where the engagement comes in," she shares. "His current special interest is all things Toy Story, and we have watched the movies more times than I can count."

  • The family has been bonding over the TV time and the son is responding positively.

    "My husband and I watch the movies with him and engage him with questions about what we are watching," she writes. "It started as easy answers ('What color is Buzz?' 'Green!') moving to more complex questions that require a full sentence of an answer. It seems silly, but it has been working."

  • Despite her grandson's progress, the mother-in-law is critical of his TV watching.

    The mom is now distraught that her mother-in-law has been criticizing her for something she's using as a tool for learning.

    "Every time we share a video of kiddo talking (which we do a lot since we are just over the moon), she will make a snide comment about how it’s 'about TV again,'" the mom shared. 

  • The MIL has even taken to social media to make public comments.

    "It’s getting to the point of demoralizing and embarrassing us, since she seems to have no qualms about commenting on our social media that we share with friends/family," the mom lamented. "We tried doing a gentle 'back off' in the form of saying things like 'with autistic kids, it’s best to engage them with their special interests!' or 'Yup! He loves Buzz Lightyear!' hoping she would get the hint."

    The mom knows if she addresses her MIL directly, the couple will be "dealing with a crying, whining adult and guilt trips from the rest of the family for 'being mean' to her (been there, done that)."

  • The mom doesn't want her other issues with her MIL to overshadow this specific issue.

    "I vote she loses the right to see my son’s progress if she’s being rude about it," the mom reveals. "My husband wants to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. He argues that she doesn’t see him often (completely by her choice, since we live only three blocks away), so to cut her off our social media would be mean." 

    "Quite frankly, I have other issues with my mother-in-law, so I know that is clouding my decision-making."
  • There's data that supports why animation helps people with autism achieve communication.


    "I would suggest she watch Life, Animated, a movie about a young man named Owen Suskind who found a similar way to achieve communication with his family and friends," suggests the Care and Feeding columnist. "It does a marvelous job explaining why so many autistic people love animated movies: exaggerated facial expressions to aid in learning nonverbal modes of communication, archetypal heroes and sidekicks and classic narratives of triumph over adversity, characters who turn what others see as weaknesses into strengths, etc."

    "If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching."

  • If the MIL doesn't stop criticizing, the mom should also have a few words with her.


    "Then, tell her to [expletive] zip it if she keeps it up. You’re doing great," the columnist at Care and Feeding suggests. "You don’t have time for this nonsense back-seat driving. You don’t have to cut her off your social media, but you can restrict your ability to see her comments on it. And you can end conversations if she starts nagging."

    "I think you are a great parent, and you’re meeting your son where he is. If we all did that, the world would be a better place."