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How Screen Time Affects Children With Autism

Whether it’s playing a mobile game on your phone or typing up a report on your computer at work, technology continues to become a more integral part of our day-to-day lives. According to a July 2023 report, people worldwide spend an average of six hours and 40 minutes on the internet.

Although it may be alarming that we spend a quarter of our day in front of a screen, this is just an average, and the actual number of hours vary from person to person. For children with autism, the long hours in front of the screen time may have effects on their growth and development.

Effects of Screen Time on Children With ASD

Every child with autism is unique. However, many children with autism have difficulty navigating social interactions and may have trouble making friends. The virtual world may give them an outlet for their creativity and give them a safe space to make friends online.

 “Children with ASD have a remarkable attraction to screen viewing at a younger age compared to their healthy peers. This

 is explained by their nature of having less social leisure and preference for computing activity over social network browsing because it is very demanding for them to be socially engaged.”

Despite the many positive effects that technology can have for children with autism, a child that spends a large bulk of their time looking at a screen may become reliant on this technology and struggle during ABA therapy or in real-life settings like school or on a playdate.

According to a recent study, “Compared with neurotypical children, children with ASD interact longer with screens. The longer the screen time, the more severe the symptoms of ASD (especially sensory symptoms), and the more obvious the developmental delay.”

Spending hours in front of a screen may also lead to a decrease in the amount of physical activity, which could lead to other health problems. “Among children with ASD, we found some evidence of a relationship between barriers to physical activity and participation in physical activity. Barriers to physical activity were positively related to levels of screen time behavior in children with ASD.”

Some other effects that too much screen time could lead to include: 

  • Inadequate sleep schedules and insufficient sleep

  • Behavior problems

  • Delays in language and social skills development

  • Violence

  • Attention problems

  • Less time learning

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Health experts say screen time at home should be limited to two hours or less a day.”

This number varies based on a child’s age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months old not look at a screen except for short instances of video chatting.

By 18 to 24 months, it should be safe to show children high-quality educational programming under supervision. For children between the ages of two to five, limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming.

How to Limit Screen Time

Every child is unique, so the amount of screen time may vary from child to child.

Some ways that you can limit screen time for your child include:

  • Creating tech-free zones or times, such as during meals

  • Having rules that limit your child’s computer time, tv watching, and video game playing

  • Setting attainable goals

  • Spending face-to-face time with your child

  • Going outside

  • Using a visual schedule

  • Interacting with a first-then board

How ABA Therapy Can Help Your Child Reduce Screen Time

With ABA therapy, therapists help children with autism break down challenging life skills and goals into bite-sized pieces. The same can be said for limiting screen time.

By focusing on a child’s interests, ABA therapists can increase the number of reinforcers that your child may like, such as a sensory toy or healthy snack instead of a screen. By doing this, we can reduce the need for positive reinforcement until the child spends less time in front of a screen on their own.

If you’re interested in signing up for ABA therapy services, click here.

Sources Cited

Dong, H., et al. Correlation Between Screen Time and Autistic Symptoms as Well as Development Quotients in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Kemp, S. Digital 2023 July Global Statshot Report.

Muacevic, A., & Adler J. The Association Between Screen Time Exposure and Autism Spectrum Disorder-Like Symptoms in Children.

Must, A., et al. Barriers to Physical Activity in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Relationship to Physical Activity and Screen Time.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Reduce Screen Time.

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