Autism and Screen time

I have 4 boys 2 of whom are on the autism spectrum and each one of them spends a fair amount of time using technology.

I came across this stat which got me thinking about how our kids use screentime.

Children under the age of 8 use technology for an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes each day, which is a consistent figure over the past decade. Kids between the ages of 5-8 spend almost 3 hours each day with screen-based technologies. 98% of children live in a home which owns at least one mobile device.

As technology continues to play a larger role in our lives, screen time has become an increasingly prevalent issue. While excessive screen time can be detrimental to children generally, it can be particularly harmful to those on the autism spectrum.

Studies suggest that children on the autism spectrum have a higher risk of developing screen addiction, which can have harmful effects on their mental, physical and social well-being. In this blog, I want to explore the dangers of excessive screen time for children on the autism spectrum and highlight what we can do as parents to use technology and screentime in a more positive way.

Let’s look at the risks of excessive screen time.

Increased risk of behavioural issues

For children on the autism spectrum, excessive screen time has been linked to increased behavioural issues such as hyperactivity and attention problems. Children may become fixated on their screens, which can make it difficult for parents to engage with them and carry out necessary activities such as eating or sleeping.

Additionally, screen addiction can lead to a lack of interest in other activities and difficulties in setting goals, developing social connections, and maintaining emotional regulation. As a result, children may become isolated, withdrawn, and have negative self-esteem, all of which contribute to behaviour problems.

Lack of physical activity and exercise

Physical activity is an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle, and children on the autism spectrum are no exception. However, excessive screen time can lead to a lack of engagement in physical activities, which can contribute to obesity, hypertension, and other physical health issues.

Furthermore, children who spend excessive time on screens may develop poor posture, muscle imbalances, and other physical complications. These complications can impact their ability to participate in physical activities and develop new skills, further perpetuating the cycle of inactivity.

Sleep disturbances

Research has shown that screen time can interfere with the sleep pattern of children, affecting both the quantity and quality of sleep. Poor sleep can lead to behavioural issues, mood swings, cognitive impairment, and impaired academic performance.

Sleep disturbances can be particularly impactful for children on the autism spectrum, as the condition is often characterised by sleep difficulties. Excessive screen time can exacerbate these problems, leading to further developmental delays and negative impacts on the child's overall well-being.

Social skills and communication

Social skills and communication are crucial aspects of development for children on the autism spectrum. However, excessive screen time can negatively impact these skills, leading to issues with communication and socializing with peers.

For example, children who spend a significant amount of time on screens may have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations, comprehension, and interpreting nonverbal cues, which can lead to social anxiety and isolation.

Impact on cognitive development

Research has shown that children on the autism spectrum are susceptible to cognitive delays, and excessive screen time can further impact cognitive development. Children who spend an excessive amount of time on screens may have a reduced ability to concentrate and attend to relevant information.

Furthermore, excessive screen time can lead to a decrease in imaginative play and problem-solving, which is an essential aspect of cognitive development. Children may struggle to develop logical reasoning skills, which can impact their academic performance and future career prospects.

Exposure to harmful content

Excessive screen time can lead to exposure to inappropriate or harmful content, which can negatively impact the mental health and well-being of children, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Children may come across violent, sexually explicit, or age-inappropriate content, leading to anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. Additionally, excessive screen time can lead to cyberbullying, which can cause a significant impact on the child's mental health.

What can parents do?

Excessive screen time can have far-reaching negative effects on the social, physical, and cognitive development of children on the autism spectrum. While technology can be an essential resource for learning and communication, moderation is critical to limit the potential harm caused by excessive screen time.

Parents can take steps to manage their child's screen time by setting limits and guidelines for device use, promoting physical activity and engagement in other activities, and monitoring the content their child is exposed to online.

Balancing the benefits and drawbacks of screen time for children with ASD can be challenging, but parents can take several steps to ensure that their children's technology use remains safe, healthy, and constructive:

Here are five ways parents can use screen time positively:

Use educational apps

There are various educational apps available to download for children of different ages. Parents can introduce these apps to their children, which can provide not only an educational experience but also a fun one. Educational apps can help children to learn about history, science, and other subjects. These apps are also interactive, making it possible for children to learn and retain information effectively.

 Screen time for bonding

Screen time can be an opportunity for parents to bond with their children. For example, parents can watch movies, shows or documentaries together with their children. It can be a way for families to enjoy time together while discussing what they are watching. It's beneficial for parents to talk to their children about the content they are viewing and discuss the messages and lessons it conveys.

Set limits and routine

Parents can utilize screen time positively by setting limits and creating a routine. Children may want to use screen time excessively, but it's essential for parents to monitor and control their usage. Limiting screen time can help children to find other activities that they enjoy and allow them to gain a balance in their life. Additionally, establishing a routine can help children to develop positive habits around technology use.

Encourage creativity

Screen time can also be a way for children to express their creativity. There are various creative apps available, such as drawing and animation apps, which allow children to create and show their imaginative skills. Parents can also encourage their children's creative tendencies through writing, illustrating, and creating digital art. Using screen time for creative endeavours can help children to develop marketable skills that can benefit them in the future.

Teach digital literacy

Lastly, parents should teach their children digital literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to use technology effectively and safely. Parents can educate their children on cybersecurity, safe internet browsing, and other aspects related to online interactions. By teaching children about digital literacy, parents can help them be responsible users of technology.

Ultimately, it is crucial to remember that every child on the autism spectrum is unique, and parents should work with their child's doctors and therapists to understand how screen time affects their specific condition, development, and needs. With the right support and resources, children on the autism spectrum can thrive and reach their potential, free from the negative effects of excessive screen time.

I hope you found this useful, and I'll be looking at some educational Apps in my next blog.