Setting routine screen time limits for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be very beneficial - because they like familiar activities, rituals and routines. They find changes to be very stressful and take comfort in being able to control their environment and to know what is going to happen next.
They can also have obsessions or particular interests that they need to follow, as well as difficulty communicating in social situations and can feel stressed and anxious, when they don’t understand what is happening around them.
The benefit of routine screen times for children with ASD
Studies have shown that children with ASD are fascinated by screen-based technology and spend more than 50% of their free time either using or watching screen-based media. Many children with ASD are considered to be high users of the internet, more so than their peers without ASD.
As you are most probably already aware, children with ASD love surfing the internet, interacting over social media networks and playing games online. One of the reasons for their affinity with the internet and screen based media, is that they like solitary activities. The internet therefore, is an important avenue not only for their education, but also for interacting with others, in a way that meets their needs.
The problem is that an obsession with screen-based media can also lead to a slow academic performance, as well as a lower academic outcome. Offline social engagements are also reduced, behaviours can become problematical and kids also lose their ability to pay attention for very long.
With all of our children, regardless of whether they have ASD or not, we want to foster the benefits of the internet and minimize the negative effects. With ASD children, the fact that they like screen-based media is good, because it helps them to learn and allows them to socialise in a way that suits them.
The fact that they also require routines is very helpful to parents, because you can instigate strict screen time limits, which they will willingly adhere to every day. Knowing that they can go online at 7pm for example, and then go to bed at 9pm, gives them a comforting daily routine.
Clearly the internet can have a very positive influence on your child, which means that you need to balance their desire to use the internet with your need for screen time limits. Once you have your screen time limits in place, it is a good strategy to replace lost screen time with scheduled outside activities. If these can include social interactions, as well as be compelling in nature – for example a weekly robotics club or chess meetup, then all the better.