Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often face difficulty in understanding and navigating the world around them. A slight trigger can cause children who have ASD to become hyperactive.
Furthermore, autistic children are prone to repeating specific patterns of behavior, which makes it difficult to interact with others. This is why digital devices provide an escape to autistic children, where predictable outcomes allow them to perform according to their own pace.
Research says that autistic children spend more time on screen than children who do not have autism. About 64.2 percent of young adults with ASD spend their free time on TV, and video games and 13.2 percent of young adults with ASD spend time on social media sites, emails, and chatting.
The use of social media can provide children with autism with a buffer so that they can easily process information in the real world. Despite the apparent advantage of autistic children using digital devices, there are disadvantages of too much screen time as well. Prolonged use of digital devices is unhealthy for children, but its effects are more pronounced in autistic children.
As a parent of an ASD child, you would want to help your child live as healthy a life as possible. This is why you need to be aware of the effects of technology on your child’s upbringing. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of screen time for autistic children.
Pros of screen time
In an article by Huffington Post, parents say that digital devices are “an important tool that helps their kids communicate, develop social skills, enhance their ability to learn and even alleviate anxiety.”
Some parents argue that screen time can be treated as a reward for their child to help them understand if a particular behavior is appreciated or not. In the case of kids with autism, this method to incentivize behavior works. This method also works to help autistic kids learn other activities. Moreover, it can help in calming down a child in times they get distressed.
According to researcher Dr. Paul Shattuck, there are many benefits associated with using digital devices. Video games, for instance, provide repetition of a particular scenario. The same goes for videos found online on YouTube. Games and videos are predictable and can also induce calming effects for children with autism. According to researchers, smartphones and tablets can serve as a mode of therapy for kids. This is where the power of technology can be leveraged to provide treatment to kids with autism.
The digital medium provides audio and visual stimuli that are not present in the real world. The anxiety brought by face-to-face interactions can be overwhelming for kids with ASD. So digital device provides autistic kids with a setting where they can control their interactions and have time to process. This can aid autistic children in social interactions in real life.
The use of digital devices helps children on the autism spectrum learn on their own. Often children with autism are unable to perform well in a regular classroom alongside students who have different learning abilities. The distractions in a classroom can make kids anxious and stressed. In this case, digital devices serve as an alternative to help them learn in an environment that they consider safe. Hence these devices can supplement their learning and put them on the same scale as other students in the class.
However, screen time should be regulated by parents since too much of it can have negative consequences.
Cons of screen time
Many children with autism are sensitive to stimulus. Digital devices provide a multitude of stimuli. This can make them irritated and worsen their behavior.
In an article on Psychology Today, the author, Victoria L. Dunckley, states that “children with autism are extra vulnerable to screen time effect.” Since children with autism are prone to sleep disturbances, screen time affects their sleeping patterns even more. Furthermore, autism causes inflammation of the nervous system. Too much screen time causes the same effect on children by releasing stress hormones.
The same article says that electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted from communication devices are harmful to autistic children since these children are more sensitive to EMF.
It is known that children with autism have difficulty in social interactions and expressing themselves with the aid of facial expressions and body language. According to Victoria L. Dunckley, screen time hinders the development of skills necessary for social interactions. According to her, screen viewing and TV cause delay in learning languages in children.
Moreover, when a child has “tics,” which are related to sensory and motor integration issues. Screen time can worsen sensory behavior. Also, screen time is known to exacerbate obsessive-compulsive disorders. Since autistic children are more prone to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety, the effects of screen time amplify OCD in autistic children.
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Too much screen time can also cause a lower attention span. In addition to this, depression is linked to screen time causing health-related issues as well. There is a variety of content available online. Autistic children may be exposed to inappropriate and unsafe content through the use of digital devices.
A study was published which states, “The social and behavioral impairments experienced by children with autism disorder (ASD) appear to make participation in structured and unstructured forms of physical activity more difficult.” Motor skills are one factor that hinders the physical activity of autistic children. However, the study confirms that screen time decreases the level of physical activity in autistic children. Lack of physical Screen Time Recommendations activity can lead to obesity.
Keeping the pros and cons of screen time in mind, parents should regulate the time their kids spend on digital devices. It is important to set out rules for screen time. For kids and young people with ASD, the following points regarding screen time should be considered.
Allocate a certain amount of screen time and stick to it. Three hours a day is the maximum time limit for using digital devices.
Set a time of the day when your child has access to a digital device, preferably in the evening or before dinner. Make sure that your child does not use a screen at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Use screen time as a reward for activities that your child may not enjoy, such as cleaning up, homework, or other chores.
Since the digital world is filled with frauds and scams, it is easy for children to be lured by them. This is why parents should monitor the online activity of their child. Cell phone monitoring applications such as Xnspy monitor your child’s smartphone. You can also determine application usage.
Know the password to accounts that your child may be using.
Give a 10-minute and five-minute warning before the screen time ends. Use a timer to clock the time spent on a digital device so that your child is aware of the time spent and the time left for screen time.
Age is a factor in determining how much time a child should spend using a digital device. The following table lists down the recommended time for each age bracket.
|Age(years)||Recommended Screen Time(hours/day)|
Digital devices, including smartphones and tablets, help kids with autism learn and interact with the world. Digital devices provide comfort and a familiar environment, which makes it easy for kids on the autistic spectrum to perform. It makes them independent learners and remove distractions that may cause anxiety and trigger stress. There is then no doubt that digital devices are essential to help autistic children in their day-to-day lives.
The negative effects of digital devices are well-documented. The health-related issues caused due to increased levels of screen time is a cause for concern. Therefore, too much screen time is not good either.
This article was featured in Issue 91 – Great Back-to-School Strategies