Why do some autistics like watching the same media over and over?

I can’t speak for all autistics, but there are a lot of reasons I watch the same media over and over! I have about 10 long series that I watch on endless loop – I restart one, watch every episode in order, and then restart the next one (I keep a spreadsheet), ad nauseum. Except for me it’s not ad nauseum – it’s the main, maybe only, way I can enjoy media! In this post I’ll go over a few reasons why, in case it gives anyone insight as to why you or your autistic loved one might be doing the same thing I do.

Routine: This might be the obvious answer, but it’s not unimportant. Many of us just thrive on routine. Even if all other elements were neutral, it is inexplicably reassuring and comforting to watch the same shows over and over. In a chaotic world where we may not always know what to expect, coming home to a familiar show can feel like a weighted blanket or a soft stuffed animal.

Prosopagnosia (faceblindness): I am not completely faceblind, but it does take me a huge amount of repeated exposure to any given face before I begin to recognize it reliably. For this reason, (re)watching TV shows that have several seasons with the same main cast of characters keeps me oriented to which character is which. In contrast, watching a two-hour-long movie would just be confusing: it’s very difficult to understand what’s going on when for the first two-thirds (at least) of the plot I can’t even tell if I’ve met any given main character yet, let alone what they said or did in previous scenes. Sometimes I recognize an actor by their voice, but unless I’ve seen multiple seasons’ worth of their appearances – ideally over and over – their face is likely to be a mystery to me. Occasionally even actors I am very familiar with are unrecognizable out of context – once, in the middle of a DM conversation about Gillian Anderson, a friend sent me a picture of Anderson. I’ve seen X-Files at least five times through, but this was an out-of-context photo where her hair and outfit was different than I’m used to. My response to my friend: “who’s that person?” I was baffled as to why she had sent me a random photo of what to me registered as a stranger.

Auditory processing: Captions can help a lot with auditory processing, but so can rewatching media. Captions don’t usually account for background music or sound effects, and even with captions it might take me a few times through any given scene before I’m integrating all that correctly. Crucially, jump scares and other startling sounds/lights/movements can somewhat be cognitively prepared for if you know what’s coming when. Watching a series from beginning to end on Netflix means I don’t have to turn down the volume for every artificially loudened commercial break like I would on a standard television, and I can skip the theme songs if they’re also too loud (or if they’ve recently changed – that bugs the heck out of me).

Understanding the plot: I guess this makes me feel a little silly, but I genuinely don’t understand the plot of many shows the first time through. Every time a new season of Stranger Things comes out it takes me at least three times through before I start to understand why things happened the way they did. It seems like I just don’t always clue in to the elements the creators expect neurotypicals to automatically notice. I didn’t fully realize how true this was until I watched a couple of shows with audio descriptions. While I wish the audio descriptions were also captioned, what I could catch of them was amazing. They pointed out crucial elements of each scene I was supposed to be attending to but often wasn’t – facial expressions, body language, visual elements that set the backdrop with clues and ingredients of later subplots. A bonus is that audio descriptions often name the character seen emoting on screen, helping with prosopagnosia. But they’re available for so few shows, in most cases it’s only rewatching multiple times that can help me meet these access needs. Repetition helps me grasp each step of the plot and how it’s all connected. I start to figure out characters’ motivations and understand the worldbuilding rules that shape the story.

There are probably many more reasons other autistic people might prefer to rewatch media, these are just the biggest contributing factors for me. What are yours? Comment below!

 

2 thoughts on “Why do some autistics like watching the same media over and over?

  1. YES! Many (50?) years ago when my first child was born I read an article on why young children want to hear the same storybook over and over. The author suggested that young brains know 3 states: Learning, Comfort, and Anxiety. (Boredom is part of Anxiety.) As long as the child wants the same book they are either learning from the reading experience or finding comfort in it. Each of my 3 children and my 7 grandchildren have had special books that we ended up memorizing after a thousand readings! My 11 yr old grandson with ASD fits your profile perfectly with his media, too. (We have all become acquainted with the Marvel Universe and can quote whole scenes from Harry Potter or Monty Python!) Thank you for writing this – we will look forward to more of your advice.

    Liked by 1 person

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