In this blog, we’ll look at how screen time affects children with autism and whether or not we should monitor the time they spend on their devices.
We’ll answer the following questions:
- Is screen time good or bad for autism?
- Pros of screentime for children with autism
- Cons of screentime for children with autism
- How does screen time ultimately affect autism?
Is Screen Time Good Or Bad For Autism?
Screens offer some great benefits for kids, such as entertainment or educational videos and games. That said, there is such a thing as too much screen time. If your child is spending too much time staring at a screen, they could be missing out on real-life experiences for skill-building and social interactions.
Extensive exposure to blue rays from screen lights can also contribute to physical problems such as eye strain. You should also consider when your child is using their screens. For example, avoiding screens 30 minutes before bedtime is recommended because of their negative effects on sleep quality. Below, we’ve compiled a more extensive list of the pros and cons of screen time and autism so you can decide for yourself.
Pros Of Screentime For Children With Autism
Educational videos promote learning new skills and topics. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can watch a person on-screen perform a task to understand better how to do so themselves. Likewise, there are all kinds of videos out there catered to children on important topics like animals, planets, family, etc.
Similar to social stories, educational videos can walk a child through different real-life scenarios and the appropriate responses (e.g., an animated short film on handling anger). These visual prompters can promote desired behavior in various interactions and help build self-confidence in their social skills.
Interactive Games for Skill-Building
Online video games or app games can be a great way to strengthen fine motor skills. Your child can practice finger movements and hand-eye coordination in a fun format that doesn’t feel like work—for example, online coloring games and racing games. Games also work the mind and can enhance cognitive skills, such as math-based games or category sorting games.
Cons Of Screentime For Children With Autism
Takes Away from In-Person Learning Opportunities
As entertaining as screens can be, they also take away from real-life experiences. It’s important to balance screen time to ensure your child is still spending a healthy amount of time with friends and family in person. Excessive screen time can contribute to a depletion in social interactions, which is where we all learn to communicate with others.
Eye Strain and Sleeping Problems
Screens of digital devices produce blue rays, which can harm your eyes at high usage rates. The blue rays, also called high energy visible light, can cause “digital eye strain” or “computer vision syndrome” by drying your eyes out.
Digital eye strain may cause blurry vision, headaches, eye irritation, and double vision. To avoid these issues, it’s best to take a break from screens every 20 minutes or so and to keep your screens at least 20 to 28 inches away from your face.
In the same way that blue rays affect vision, they can also impact your sleep quality. Blue light exposure near bedtime stimulates your brain and essentially tricks it into thinking it’s daytime. Because of this, your brain slows the process of releasing melatonin, which makes it much more difficult to sleep.
Try to keep your child on a schedule where they put screens away at least thirty minutes to two hours before bedtime. This way, their brain has time to readjust from the time spent staring at a screen and settle in for the night.
Reduced Attention Span
Several studies have shown a strong link between screen time and attention problems. Children who spend most of their free time staring at screens may exhibit ADHD-like symptoms and have more difficulty focusing.
An article from the National Library of Medicine discusses several studies conducted on correlations between screen time and attention in children, and most of the studies found associations between screen time and attention problems in children. The final consensus of the findings suggests that exposure to excessive screen time in children can be associated with attention problems.
How Does Screen Time Ultimately Affect Autism?
Overall, screen time may provide opportunities for enrichment through videos and games but can significantly hinder an autistic child’s social and communication growth if it’s not balanced with real-life learning and interactions. It’s important for parents to be mindful of the amount of time their children spend on screens and to be consistent with balancing screen time and important elements of the day, such as social interaction and physical activity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has established recommendations for screen time for children based on their age group. We broke these down further below.
Recommended Screen Time for Kids with Autism
|Age Group in Years
|Hours of Screen Time Daily
|0 hours, except for video chatting with friends and family
|3 to 5
|0.5 to 1 hour
|5 to 7
|1 to 1.5 hours
|7 to 12
|1 to 1.5 hours
|12 to 15
|1.5 to 2 hours
Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics