Regulating Screen Time for Kids with Autism

A Guide to Regulating Screen Time for Children with Autism

Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids ages 8-18 spend 7.5 hours a day watching screens for entertainment, of which 4.5 hours are spent watching television. In a year, that amounts to 114 full days watching a screen for fun. (CDC, 2018).

The use of electronic devices by kids is growing more and more common. Screen time is being accessed by children at younger ages and is being consumed by them in greater quantities each day than ever before. Both children with disabilities and those without are affected by this.

The Relationship Between Screen Time and Autism

Screen time is often particularly appealing to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A person with autism is likely to have social skills challenges as well as restricted interests. As a result, children with autism may struggle in social situations, or find making relationships stressful. Face-to-face interactions might also seem overwhelming or confusing to them.

Additionally, kids with autism often have restricted interests, meaning they enjoy a limited number of activities and topics. ASD kids can also become hyperfocused on what they’re doing, particularly when they’re interested in it.

With these characteristics of autism, it’s easy to see why kids would be interested in and spend a lot of time using electronic devices. Kids with autism can enjoy screen time if they follow some guidelines. However, parents should keep in mind some things when allowing their kid’s screen time.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Screen Time

The use of screen time by children with autism spectrum disorder has some advantages and some disadvantages. Electronic devices can have both positive and negative effects on a child’s development and functioning.

The Benefits of Screen Time

While screen time may interfere with social skills, electronic-based activities can also contribute to social skills and relationships. In contrast to their everyday, face-to-face interactions with other members of their community, video games, and certain social media platforms may allow kids with autism to connect with peers in positive ways.

It’s important to note, however, that these types of activities can also be extremely dangerous. Make sure your child only participates in activities you believe are appropriate for them. Additionally, internet safety must be taught. In the following sections, we’ll discuss that in greater detail.

The use of screens can also provide opportunities to learn certain skills. Playing games or interacting with others through social-based activities or watching videos can help kids learn skills. Watching videos of someone else performing certain tasks, for example, might help a child learn those tasks. It is also possible for them to learn social skills from watching social interactions in TV shows or movies.

Disadvantages of Screen Time

Children with autism who spend excessive amounts of time on screens may be able to learn other skills, particularly social skills if they are exposed to excessive amounts of screen time. In addition, it could interfere with learning many other skills, such as independence with daily living. In part, this is because the child spends less time on these other activities. The mental and cognitive functions of these children are often focused on electronic activities rather than having the physical and mental space to improve in these other areas.

Screen time also has the potential to cause dangerous experiences. Inappropriate content may be presented to kids. There is a possibility that they will be taken advantage of. There is a possibility that they will disclose personal information on the internet that shouldn’t be shared. As a result of interactions with others (such as cyberbullying) or comparing themselves to others (which is common on social media platforms), they might experience emotional or psychological harm.

Individualizing the Approach to Each Child

When considering screen time with your child or a child you’re helping, it is important to consider the individual child. Kids’ screen time cannot be regulated in a one-size-fits-all manner. Considering a child’s age, developmental level, skills and abilities, needs, and whether they are aware of the dangers of the internet and how to stay safe online is important. Those are just a few things to consider when managing your child’s screen time.

Time for Screens

Set expectations and rules around your child’s screen time. Think about how much screen time your child should have. Also, consider whether your child should have screen-free periods throughout the day in which no electronic devices are allowed.

For example, it could be helpful to limit your child’s access to electronic devices after school for three hours or until homework is done. In order to support your child in getting enough sleep at night, you might limit screen time in the evening. Before going to bed, children (and adults) should have time away from screens.

Educational Use of Screen Time

Electronic devices like computers and Chromebooks are being used more often than ever before, especially for school and work. Keep this in mind when managing your child’s screen time.

Is screen time necessary for homework? You’ll want to help your child distinguish between using screen time for this purpose and not getting distracted by leisure activities when they are supposed to be doing school activities, especially if your child is older.

Recommendations for Screen and Lean

CDC recommends that children be limited to 1-2 hours of leisurely screen time per day, depending on your preferences as a parent. Children should also be active for at least 60 minutes a day. This is called Lean Time by the CDC. Regulate your child’s screen time accordingly.

Safety on the Internet

The importance of internet safety when it comes to screen time cannot be overstated. It is important to teach children about internet safety.

Children should learn about internet safety (and parents should proactively discuss internet safety with their kids):

  • Don’t share personal information online
  • Cyberbullying (what they should do if it happens to them and what not to do)
  • Be aware of the possibility that people (strangers or even familiar people) might pretend to be someone they’re not.
  • Link and content spamming should be avoided
  • Avoid inappropriate content
  • The use of parental controls when necessary

Autism-Friendly Apps & Websites

Some apps that might be beneficial for your child with autism include:

  1. ABC Kids
  2. Pokemon Smile
  3. Starfall
  4. GoNoodle
  5. Proloquo2Go
  6. Speech Blubs
  7. Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings
  8. Touch and Learn – Emotions
  9. First-Then Visual Schedule

Autism Speaks has developed a recommended list of online, virtual activities. Find it here.

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