Autism and Screen Time



Modern parenting bashers always want to have a go at screen time. It started with the advent of 1970’s kids TV and it’s only gained momentum. But we live in the digital age. Screens are completely intertwined with modern living. Making them the baddie doesn’t necessarily seem so straightforward. Add on Real Life living with a child on the spectrum, and seeing and experiencing the power of screens to calm, regulate, educate and engage, and well, I’m not convinced Screens are The Bad Guy per se. But Screen Time is the Guilt-Trip of the modern parent.


The Monster of Screen-Time for ASD


A quick Google will have you coming up trumps with a plethora of Anti-Screen info for children with Autism. And they aren’t without ground. These very children are the ones who need more social engagement, more direction and practice at social interaction than the neuro-typical child. We’ve seen the headlines about the effects of computer games on a child’s developing mind, and exposure to inappropriate violence or other media.


But the monster there isn’t the screens themselves. It’s all about how you use the tool of screens.


It also assumes an all or nothing approach. No Screen Time = Good, Screen Time = Bad. But isn’t access to screen time as much a continuum as ASD itself? There’s a huge difference between an hour a day and unrestricted access. There’s a huge difference between a 7 year old playing Grand Theft Auto and a 12 year old building a map in Minecraft.


However, parents and carers of Autistic children do need to be careful with screen time. Research, Dr Paul Shattuck, from Washington University, St Louis, discovered that kids with ASD do spend considerably more times on screens than their NT counterparts (link: Is this healthy and helpful of not?


What’s Good About Screen Time for Autistic Children


Hands up, ‘fess up: I am not anti-screens and I’m also not a perfect parent. I recognise that I frequently use screens as a baby-sitter, reward, and all round positive thing in my home. For my NT kids and ASD Boo alike. I’m human, I need a break from the whirling dervishes that I call my kids.


But that’s not what is good about screen time. That’s a by-product. Screen Time for my ASD kiddo is good depending on how we use it, how we let him use it, and that’s what makes it good.


You won’t find my nearly 10 year old ASD kid on any age-inappropriate games. You will find him building the most complex Parkour maps in Minecraft. You’ll find him lost in You Tube sucking Stampy’s brain dry or you’ll find him on Google absorbing facts, dates, figures at a rate his bookcase, and my general knowledge can’t meet. You’ll find him researching the name of every spell in Harry Potter. You’ll find him reading about World Records and comparing facts and stats. Those 1 million views on a You Tube clip about the banalities of a particular car engine – they are one ASD kiddo sucking the clip dry.


And to me, all of this is positive. Add on the calming  self-regulating benefits of screen-time for Boo and I call it a winner.


You see, screens are a repetitive , safe and predictable interface that Autistic children are going to not only be drawn to but find helpful and calming. Screens stick to the rules (except damn you bloody dodgy internet connection). They are a safe (with parental controls) and utterly predictable place to engage, unwind and feed the self.


It’s All About Knowing Your Limits


To us, it is exactly about knowing Boo’s limits. It’s about knowing what he needs and where we want him to end up. Yes, he needs more direction and guidance on social engagement, he needs physical exercise, he needs family interaction. But none of these are sacrificed by rule-bound, limited screen time. But they damn well are enhanced. If Boo’s spent an hour on Minecraft whilst I do his sisters’ reading, meaning they can all come together to play and engage in the garden, isn’t that better than two little girls being interrupted?


We do have concrete rules about screen time Chez Kiwi. But screen time is there, welcomed, and utilised in a way we’re happy with. A way that nurtures and supports our ASD child living in the digital age, rather than removing a tool that can help.


What about you? Do you limit screen time? Do you think screen time is good or bad for your ASD child?


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