All he wants to do is watch TV or play on the computer!
Almost daily parents are bombarded with information and warnings about the negative impact of too much television, computer and video game use in typical children. The message is that our children are spending “excessive” amounts of time in these activities contributing to everything from increased rates of obesity to anti-social behaviours.
On the other hand, autism websites often tell parents about the benefits of activities such as computer based learning and video modeling. A parent we know recently attributed a set of social skills videos she had purchased as having the single greatest impact on her ASD son’s ability to be successful in high school! Recent research on the use of electronic screen media (ESM) (Shane and Albert, 2008) also suggests that children with ASD show a strong preference for these activities compared to other activities such as reading, toy play or interactive play.
So, what’s a parent to do? The following tips may help::
- Don’t feel guilty that your son or daughter prefers to spend more time watching television or movies or playing on the computer than engaging in other activities. This is very common in ASD and seems to reflect a tendency for strong visual learning and a need for sameness and predictability.
- Do be aware of what your son or daughter is doing or watching on the computer or television. Research suggests that they are learning and may imitate what they see or hear. Make sure it is something you want them to learn!
- Don’t worry if they prefer to watch the same segment of a movie or activity over and over. Again this is typical in ASD and is often very soothing to many students.
- Do try to broaden their horizons by gently introducing other titles that you think will have appeal. Many children with ASD seem to prefer animation as opposed to real life characters.
- Don’t let them spend all their leisure time on the use of ESM. You can use highly preferred ESM activities as rewards or incentives for engaging in less preferred activities (e.g. chores) or for engaging in an interactive play activity with you, with a sibling, or with a playmate.
- Do try to spend time with them when they are playing or watching ESM. Join in if they attempt to imitate a segment. Appreciate their pleasure. Watching ESM together may be your foundation for teaching reciprocal interaction, literacy, or recognition of states of mind.
- Don’t let your child have free access to everything on TV or the internet. Use parental controls to limit access to objectionable content (e.g. violence).
- Lastly,do set limits and rules. Put them in writing. Use a timer. Be consistent. Your child will benefit from the structure you provide and you will be happier knowing that you are doing what is right for your child.