One of the trickiest things parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) must manage is screen time and autism. Smartphones, social media, streaming, and video games available at all times are new phenomena different from the TV set with three available channels of yesteryear. Kids experience almost limitless stimuli, much of which is not great for their development and a poor way to pass the time.
Some level of healthy vigilance over your child’s media and screen consumption is normal, doubly so for kids on the spectrum. At ABA Centers of Florida, we want your kids to grow up healthy and happy, mastering skills that will help them achieve independence or learn coping mechanisms for life. The following is our list of recommendations regarding screen time and autism and ensuring your kids are not overcome by screens or deprived of them.
Screen Time and Autism
Children diagnosed with autism are especially susceptible to the problems that come with too much screen time. For starters, screen technologies and experiences naturally attract neurodivergent kids. It allows them to be in absolute control and skirt the burdens of social interaction, withdrawing into their interests and routines. The fact that these kids are also susceptible to tantrums to explain their emotions only compounds the problem. Parents often concede and allow their children more screen time in return for quiet moments.
The unique quirks of the ASD diagnosis mean that an unhealthy amount of screen time may be worse for kids on the spectrum. Below are how an excess of screen time can harm neurodivergent children.
- Screen Time Hinders Social Skills: One of the hallmarks of autism is difficulty recognizing and expressing emotion. Body language, eye contact, holding a conversation, and understanding the feelings of others are a challenge for many on the spectrum. Screen time competes with socialization time and slows the acquisition of critical communication skills needed to navigate the world.
An unhealthy side effect of too much screen time is the replacement of real relationships with parasocial ones. Parasocial relationships are entirely one-sided fascinations with figures that aren’t aware you exist, like celebrities or imaginary characters. Given the propensity of those on the spectrum to develop narrow, sometimes obsessive interests, too much screen time might develop into an unhealthy obsession with a YouTuber or a streamer. Add to this the ever-present risk of pornographic addiction, which those on the spectrum can frequently be fascinated by in the form of stimming or a fetish, and it becomes clear that when it comes to ASD, it’s best to be careful with the content they consume.
- Screen Time Hinders Emotional Responses: Children with ASD have difficulty sleeping since they have low melatonin. Screen time, specifically blue light, further disrupts sleep schedules. Kids on the spectrum also struggle with overstimulation, anxiety, attention problems, and other mood disorders. Various studies have shown that too much screen time leads to emotional dysregulation, which neurodivergent children are particularly susceptible to.
What Can Parents Do about Screen Time?
Not everything about screens has to be doom and gloom. With proper guidance and support, screen time can also benefit children with ASD. A valuable tool one can rely on is applying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles to screentime. ABA is the gold standard in autism therapy and uses positive reinforcement to teach kids valuable skills. Children are rewarded for a healthy action with something they want, such as access to screen time. Parents can learn these techniques by watching ABA therapy sessions and asking the therapist for input.
The following list will explore some of the best practices for screen time management and how incorporating Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can help.
1. Set a limit on screen time
Children with ASD often have difficulty self-regulating and may become obsessive about an app, a game, a video, or some other type of media. Setting limits and creating a schedule that makes room for fun, non-screen time activities is important. The list can include playing with toys, which may foster your child’s imagination. Another great option is physical exercise, which kids on the spectrum often struggle to get.
If your kid needs help understanding why limits are important, incorporate a visual schedule. Visual schedules are a great tool for children with ASD, and you can use them to show when screen time is allowed and when it is time for something else.
2. Choose age-appropriate content
When selecting content for your child, ensure it matches their interests while avoiding any content that is violent, scary, overly stimulating or likely to trigger anxiety. Try educational games and shows that promote learning and positive behavior. If you are interested, we’ve already compiled a list of great mobile apps for autism!
3. Use screen time as a reward
Screen time can be a great motivator to get your kids to understand life lessons. The principles of ABA Therapy outlined above apply here. You can create a token economy with screentime as a reward for completing homework or chores.
4. Browse together
There is no reason why screen time must be a solitary experience. You can incorporate ABA principles into screen time when viewing videos, playing games, or sharing browsing time. For example, if you teach your child to use an app, you can provide positive reinforcement such as praise or a small reward when they complete the task correctly. Being your child’s confidant is important, and making screen time social can go a long way.
5. Encourage social interaction
Screen time can be an isolating experience, so it is important to encourage social interaction when possible. Try to encourage your child to video chat with family or friends while keeping an eye on them.
6. Model appropriate screen time behavior
Children learn by example, so it is important to practice what you preach. Limit your screen time and engage in non-screen time activities with your child. If screens are not an important part of your home past dinnertime, your child may never become interested in their overuse.
7. Use parental controls
There’s a lot on the internet that kids shouldn’t see. Fortunately, parental controls can help limit online time and ensure your kids only access age-appropriate content. You can use parental controls to set time limits, block certain websites or apps, and monitor your child’s online activity.
ABA Centers of Florida and Caring for Autism
If there’s one thing we know at ABA Centers of Florida, it’s how to make the lives of those on the spectrum full and enriching. On top of providing the best, individualized ABA therapy, we have many amenities to get kids on the spectrum up and socializing. Our centers have state-of-the-art playgrounds with ball pits, trampolines, monkey bars, sensory rooms, and other fun gadgets. We also organize frequent field trips and social outings to help foster the autism community and create lifelong friendships.
If you want to teach your child important skills to better their life, call us at (772) 773-1975 or contact us through our website.