Screen time can be great for children, and many autistic children find it beneficial. With endless options at your child’s fingertips technology allows children to explore identity and independence, but it’s important to put boundaries in place to find a balance which will keep your child safe and happy.
Why is it important to manage your child’s screen time?
Screen time is simply the amount of time spent on a device such as a phone, computer, television, or video game console. Children learn best through interacting with others, playing and exploring. Despite this sometimes being challenging, time away from a screen will encourage healthy physical and social development.
Screen time and autism:
If screen time is a big source of comfort to your child, don’t feel pressured to create screen time rules if your child is safely enjoying online content. You know your child best, and lots of screen time doesn’t equal bad parenting.
Autistic children often enjoy repetition and sensory stimulation; which screen time can provide. The way autistic children consume digital content can be different to non-autistic children, and each child is individual. Screen time rules should be made with this in mind.
If screen time works well for your child, you can even incorporate it into tasks to support your child. For example, playing tooth brushing videos which your child is learning to brush their teeth for a set amount of time.
What are the benefits and drawbacks?
Autistic and disabled children may benefit greatly from using technology however, there are downsides to prolonged screen time that can affect your child’s health and development.
Benefits of screen time include:
– Supporting skill building (e.g. Social skills)
– Enhances ability to learn
– Can be a source of comfort
– Relives anxiety
– Produces sensory stimulation
– Allows for ability to be in control of interactions
– Can expose a child to unsafe content
– May affect sleeping pattern
– May cause headaches
– Distracts from the task at hand
– Can decrease physical activity
So with this in mind, we have put together five tips on how to manage your child’s screen time.
1. Talk your child and agree on the limit
Children will have an easier time accepting the limits you set if they feel they’ve been involved in the decision-making and the reasoning behind it is explained to them. It may also help you to talk to them about your concerns and worries to allow them to understand the reasons behind their limits.
2. Establish routines around the rules
Particularly for autistic children, creating and sticking to a routine can reduce anxiety and build a sense of structure. The routine can be supported by:
– Using a visual aid such as a timer to show how long they have left (Our Get Sensory Packs include Liquid Timers)
– Using visual cues and explainers such as Visual Timetables
– Reminding your child before time is up
– Modelling, or setting example, of limiting screen time
3. Create ‘screen free’ zones
Discuss with your child when and where screens are not permitted – which includes everyone in the family! For example, family mealtimes are a good time to be screen free. It’s a great opportunity to connect with each other.
4. Include breaks in their screen time limit
Continuous screen time usage without breaks can cause headaches, breaking up screen time can reduce this. These breaks could include mealtimes or physical exercise.
5. Turn screens off before bed
Blue light and stimulation from screens can cause trouble for children when falling asleep. Switching screens off before bedtime and enabling a blue light filter in the afternoon helps to ensure your child sleeps comfortably.
Why are these tips important?
Our Associate Director of Clinical Services, Paul McIlroy, said:
“In recent years, technology is being introduced to children at a younger age, exposing and instilling content and knowledge that even adults struggle to comprehend, during their key developmental stages.
“Despite the positives that can come from prolonged device usage, especially in autistic children who normally may struggle with social interactions, moderation is also beneficial. Hence these tips of how to manage screen time being a useful guide to balancing the benefits and drawbacks.”
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