October 13, 2019

The Power of Repetition

Towards the end of his book, “Following Ezra” written by our family friend Tom Fields-Meyer about the journey of parenting his teenage son with autism, Tom quotes from Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah speech:

“Sometimes I think that all Jewish people are autistic. Jews repeat things all the time. And Jews have a very good memory. We repeat Shabbat every week. And we sing the same songs, like Shalom Aleichem and Adon Olam and the Kiddush….”

During this recent round of High Holidays, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, while everyone else was “shuled out”, Danny was perfectly content with going to synagogue one, two, even three days in a row (although he did start asking for frappuccinos from Starbucks after a while). When it comes to movies and songs, it is the same story. If Danny enjoyed Finding Nemo the first time around, the 100th time is even better .(We are probably the only adults outside the Pixar employees who made the movie to literally watch that many times).

Although I long for variety and new experiences, I have ever so slowly learned to embrace the power of repetition. Mostly because it really works.

As Malcolm Gladwell explored in his seminal book, The Tipping Point, the creators of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues realized the need to make their programming “sticky”—information engineered in such a way that children were able to remember and understand what they saw on the screen. Blue’s Clues did this by slowing the dialogue down so kids could have a chance to yell out the answers at home, thus actively engaging them in the show, plus showing the same episode five days in a row (thank the Lord we have moved on to Superheroes and Wall-E).

Gladwell concludes that all that repetition helps kids trying to make sense of the world, and provides them with a sense of control. It’s kind of like when you are in a foreign country, and can only read a few words—each time you encounter those words, you smile in recognition, and shift from a feeling of being an outsider, a stranger, to being something closer to a local.

And so, I grit my teeth and prepare to watch the penguins dancing again in Happy Feet (and get mentally prepared for Happy Feet 2)!

PS I am excited to share that I will be presenting a parent’s perspective at a breakout session of the upcoming JFNA General Assembly in Denver on Monday, November 7th in a session titled, “Anyone Can Be a Leader and Advocate: Promoting Disability Rights in the 21st Century” from 11:15-12:30 pm (T202) along with self-advocate Ari Ne’eman. Please join us!