Many parents of children with autism have come to me as an occupational therapist asking about their child’s device usage. The common theme is they recognize their child is happy, calm, and loves time with the iPad or tablet, yet are wary about the amount of screen time their child is getting. Rest easy, parents—the iPad itself is not always the enemy! There are productive ways to use technology to engage with your child and work toward therapy goals.
Using technology to facilitate interaction with your child can be difficult, but it’s attainable by intentionally choosing activities. For parents, leaning into what your child is interested in and getting on his/her level can be the start of really beautiful engagement and interaction.
I have had great results using devices such as iPads and other tablets as tools to help children work toward their goals in therapy. Often, the iPad can provide extra fun and motivation when focusing on challenging motor tasks. The reality is, I get many more smiles when I bring out an iPad than a pencil and paper! The most important thing is to have fun with your child; the device is merely the facilitator. Below are some simple ways to direct your child’s media use for the purpose of interaction and therapeutic benefit.
Using cause and effect can be a fun and exciting way to engage your child. Think about the classic peekaboo game—the fun is the anticipation! The Peekaboo Barn iPad app features cute animals knocking on a closed door, just waiting for you to open it. The anticipation helps engage children as they giggle with you, waiting for the next animal to appear. I also generally love pausing videos if your child can tolerate this. Not only will pausing videos create this same anticipation, but it will provide an opportunity for either verbal or non-verbal communication, as you wait for what’s coming next.
Using a stylus
Does your child have fine motor skill deficits he/she is working on in therapy? Does he/she need more practice with handwriting? Using a stylus to navigate a touch screen is a great way to increase fine motor control. Gripping a stylus while playing an iPad game provides an opportunity to practice using a writing utensil in a fun way. I love this stylus for preschoolers:
Open the YouTube app or any music app and start a dance party with your child! Choose his/her favorite song, or check out GoNoodle to follow along with some new dance moves. Dancing is not only helpful to get your child moving, but it’s also a wonderful way to work on self-regulation, imitation, and general gross motor coordination. A favorite song of mine is the Freeze Dance. Children can practice regulating body movements and following directions, freezing at different points in the song.
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Creativity can thrive with iPads, just as it can with crayons and paper. The many drawing, doodling, and coloring apps provide a blank slate for children to create. I especially love the PBS KIDS Games iPad app, which features the Daniel Tiger Make a Card game. It’s an opportunity to create a card for a loved one by using shapes, stickers, and colors.
There are a number of YouTube channels for kids’ yoga, and what better way to start your morning with your child! The benefits of yoga for children with autism are innumerable. Yoga can be a great tool to help teach self-regulation, as they learn to breathe and move mindfully. I also love watching yoga videos for the opportunities to improve motor planning and coordination.
The iPad can open the door to many learning opportunities, and for the child who loves STEM activities, coding apps are all the rage. GoldieBlox and Lego’s various coding products, for example, make learning code very attainable for all ages, even preschoolers. In a world that’s moving forward technologically every day, learning how to code through fun and interactive iPad apps is a wonderful opportunity to gain a valuable skill.
American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. (2016, October 21). Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://services.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2016/aap-announces-new-recommendations-for-media-use/
This article was featured in Issue 113 – Transitioning to Adulthood