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How Screen Time Affects Autistic Teens and Kids

Autism and screen time

A recent study shows too much screen time for kids and teens is problematic. Increase in screen time causes overstimulation, sleep problems, and psychological difficulties. But does it affect Autistic children the same?


Before I start, I do want to add that this doesn't apply to profoundly affected children. Children that are non-verbal depend on devices to communicate and learn. Devices are vital and a necessity for many children on the Autism Spectrum.

Children and teens on the Autism spectrum are more vulnerable to the problems mentioned above and are more prone to screen addiction.

The overuse of TV, mobile devices, and computers causes overstimulation. This causes sleep problems and irritability, which leads to behavior problems. These problems may include self-injury, aggression, and anxiety.

Sleep issues are common with ASD kids by nature but screen time can make it worse. Playing an online game or watching a video excites the brain. It can be difficult to wind down from the excitement and fall asleep.

The light from devices increases alertness and slows down the release of the body's own melatonin. Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone and helps the body feel 'sleepy.'

Online and screen addiction is another big issue with all children but children and teens on the Autism spectrum struggle with it the most. Online addiction is defined as a compulsive behavior which interferes with everyday life and activities. Studies show that Autistics tend to spend more time on devices than peers.

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What can we do to cut down screen time?

1. Give time limits and restrict usage. Experts recommend no more than 3 hours per day on screen. The average device usage is 7 to 8 hours per day for 8 to 18-year-olds. This is a dramatic difference. Start by gradually reducing the time until you reach your goal. A good tip is to give a 5 or 10-minute warning towards the end of their session, so they know what to expect.

2. Role model the behavior you expect. Limit cell phone usage at the dinner table. Be engaged in activities. Do not check your phone during family time.
I personally struggle with this. My phone is my outlet, and I work from my phone.

3. Replace screen time with other activities such as playing board games, swimming, or taking nature walks.

4. Choose activities that are less stimulating before bed. Have your child play with legos or clay, sit and rock on a rocking chair, put on a weighted blanket or read a story. Offer these calming sensory activities towards the end of the day before bedtime.

Reducing screen time has been shown to improve eye contact, improve behavior, lessen anxiety, improve sensory issues and reduce irritability.

Do you feel like screen time is negatively affecting your autistic child or teen?