The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children aged 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day on screens for entertainment, 4.5 of which is dedicated to watching television. This equates to 114 full days of screen time for fun in a year. With electronic device usage by kids becoming increasingly prevalent, screen time for both those with autism and those without is being accessed at younger ages and in greater amounts than ever before.
Screen Time and Autism
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are often drawn to screen time due to their social skills challenges and restricted interests. People with autism may have difficulty engaging in social situations or making relationships and can find face-to-face interactions confusing and overwhelming.
Additionally, children with autism tend to have limited interests and hyperfocus on activities they are passionate about. Given these traits, it makes sense why kids with autism may spend a lot of time using electronic devices. Allowing screen time for those with autism is acceptable if the proper guidelines are followed. It is also especially important for parents to monitor children’s online activities to keep them safe and away from inappropriate content.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Screen Time
Like many resources, the use of screen time by children with autism has some advantages and disadvantages. With guided and monitored digital activities, electronic devices can have both positive 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.
Despite the potential for screen time to interfere with social skills, electronic-based activities can also contribute to social skills and relationships. For example, video games and social media platforms may provide children with autism with an alternative way to make positive connections with peers.
However, it is important to ensure that these activities are appropriate and that internet safety is being taught; more on that later.
Screen time can be used to help learn certain skills, such as by watching videos of someone else performing tasks, or by watching social interactions in TV shows or movies. Positive sources like educational videos can be research and learning tools for subjects in school or life skill building. Photos of videos of new locations can also help children become familiar with a new place before a big trip.
For instance, watching videos about an aquarium and ocean life can create a positive connection before a school field trip. Screens can also be used to overcome communication hurdles. For instance, tablets and phones can be used similarly to PECS devices.
Disadvantages of Screen Time
Excessive screen time for children with autism can both facilitate the learning of social skills yet impede the development of other skills, such as independence with daily living. This is because prolonged engagement with electronic activities can leave little time or mental space for the acquisition of such essential skills. Consequently, it is important to balance electronic time with other activities in order to ensure that these children can reach their full potential. Setting a timer or having specific electronic device time on the schedule can help children monitor their own online activity and build healthy habits with electronics.
Screen time also has the potential to be dangerous, as children can be exposed to inappropriate content and be taken advantage of online. Additionally, they may share personal information that should not be disclosed. Interactions with others, such as cyberbullying, and comparing themselves to others, which is common on social media, can lead to emotional or psychological harm.
Online and virtual resources are in the millions and having a plan and guidelines to follow can prevent many unwanted or dangerous situations. Incorporating online safety guidelines such as not sharing personal information or visiting unfamiliar sites is a great way to share safety tips with your child.
The importance of internet safety 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. The following are a few tips that may help:
- Don’t share personal information online
- Cyberbullying (what they should do if it happens to them)
- Be aware of the possibility that people might pretend to be someone they are not.
- Avoiding spam
- Avoid inappropriate content
- The use of parental controls when necessary (Parents)
CDC recommends that children be limited to 1-2 hours of leisurely screen time per day, depending on your preferences as a parent. It is also important to make sure children are active for at least 60 minutes a day.
Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting has provided ABA therapy for children with autism for over 20 years. Using technology including digital screen time is part of our curriculum as it becomes more and more necessary for people to learn computer literacy skills. Our goal is to use digital technology to assist children in developing life & communication skills and even foster relationships with others. With help from parents and guardians, we are confident your child can learn, grow, and succeed,