Helping Your Child with Autism Overcome a Screen Obsession

Your child loves her tablet. She most likely thinks about it or asks for it as soon as she opens her eyes. She is not alone.

Your family can function without multiple screen-related meltdowns with some interventions and strategies put into place.

Autism is a social-communication disorder, so immersing your child in tablets, computers, and other screens can really be detrimental to her brain development. Finding alternatives to screen time and encouraging social interactions are important for your child’s social and emotional growth. The time that a child spends staring at a screen takes away from her interactions with her environment and could really limit her social experiences with others.

Some of these recommendations will cause you to change you and your child’s habits, but it will totally be worth it.

To Help Your Child Overcome a Screen Obsession:

  1. Walk the walk. If you don’t want your child to be obsessed with screens, start minimizing how often you look at one. Children model what they see. So, if you are constantly checking your devices all day long, she is watching you do this. Put your phone/tablet/computer away and focus on one thing at a time. If you are playing with your child or helping with homework, don’t have your phone sitting right next to you. Put it away, so you can model what it means to focus and attend to one task.
  2. Create NO TECHNOLOGY ZONES in your home. For example, do not allow devices at the dinner table. Instead of allowing your child to watch television or play on a device during mealtimes, practice social and conversational skills instead.
  3. Teach your child that electronic devices are incredible resources, that are not just for watching YouTube videos and playing games. In most cases, we don’t want to totally eliminate devices from your child’s life, because electronics truly are beneficial and important. However, it’s important that we teach children how to respectfully and mindfully use tablets, computers, and phones. Explain and model how to use devices for purposeful interactions, not mindless obsessions.
  4. Interact with your child when she is on her device. Don’t let her get “sucked into the alternate world.” Talk to her about the games she is playing. Sit with her and observe what she is doing. Help her to use her time on a device as an educational opportunity.
  5. Limit her time on her device. During the week, only allow screen-time if it is necessary for school. On the weekends, limit the time to a maximum of 2-HOURS A DAY (this includes time on the television and computer). Some parents have found that once they eliminate screens altogether, their child’s behavior dramatically improves. If you are sensing that this is the case for your child, then go for it!
  6. Place a Screen-Time symbol in her daily schedule. If you are okay with your child using her device every day, place a symbol indicating Screen-Time in her daily schedule. This will help minimize your child’s need to constantly request this activity, because she will know when to expect it. If you are going to limit screen-time to just the weekends, then place a Screen-Time symbol in her schedule on the weekends only.
  7. Find more exciting and attractive alternatives. Dig deep into your childhood memories. What did you do before and after school?
    • Take your child to the bookstore so she can pick out actual books, not books on her tablet.
    • Encourage your child to play outside. Set up playdates that do not involve video games. If video games have helped your child connect with other kids, your desire to encourage more video games with other kids is understandable. If this is the case, you can still allow your child to play video games with others, but limit her time. You can also check out this post that I wrote a while back on this topic. 
    • Provide your child with choices of games and activities that she can play. She may have no idea what to do instead of using an electronic device. You can even write down some alternatives, stick them in a container, and let her choose an activity.
  8. Turn off all technology in the house at least 2 hours before bedtime, this includes the television. Get your child’s brain ready for bed. Do not allow any technology (including tv) in your child’s bedroom. Falling asleep with an iPad in bed can disrupt sleep cycles, contribute to a screen obsession, and is just not a good habit to get into. Encourage your child to read before bed (not on an iPad), play with quiet toys, or write and color.

Screens are all around us. These days, you can barely go out to eat without there being a screen propped up on the wall in your face. Minimizing screen-time in your home and in your child’s life is tricky, but promoting a healthy social environment is totally worth it.

What does your child like to do instead of playing on a screen? Please share below.


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