Video Games, TV, and the ‘Net — Oh My!

Technology is now a part of our everyday lives, and as parents with a child or multiple children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder you know just how easy it can be for your child to get hooked on video games, television, and the Internet. We’re all looking for resources for children with autism spectrum disorder. For instance, video games don’t have to present difficult challenges, or mysteries to unlock to offer a thrill for your ASD child to keep them circling back to the game. Sometimes just a flight or driving simulation is enough to keep your child’s attention for countless hours on end. With video streaming and unlimited access to the Internet, everything becomes instantly available for kids, so it is obvious how any child or adolescence can get caught up in the enticement of the all-powerful computer screen.

Walking the Walk

To see children watching a small screen for long periods of time can be a bit concerning for parents. Of course, we all want our kids to have a childhood like we had growing up where they want to be outside in the sun and not cooped up in the house on the couch playing a game instead of experiencing the world on the other side of that LCD screen. Seeing this day in and day out can become overwhelming and quite frustrating for parents. This leads to many moms and dads wondering if computers, tablets, and smartphones should be limited in the house to their children. However, if you want to talk the talk, show your kid(s) that you can walk the walk; if your ASD child has limitations on their Internet usage, lead by example and do the same thing. Chances are your child is not going to appreciate you or other family member sending text messages or writing emails (or perusing social media, because we all do it) during family time if they are having restricted access with their own electronic device(s).

A child with ASD will use video games, the Internet, and television as a sort of mechanism to feel comfortable and at ease. However, comfortability begins the cycle of repetition, which can lead to compulsion or addiction. When thinking about addiction people usually see the typical forms of the disease such as alcoholism or drug use, but technology can be just as addicting and equally as hard to quit. Unfortunately, though, in our day and age technology is not something we can simply abandon. So, what parents can do for their ASD kids is create healthy boundaries with technology. It is unhealthy for anyone to sit in front of a television or computer screen all day long. Limitations can be set in order to give kids the break from the screen that they don’t believe they need.
What many parents have insisted on doing is finding an activity that relates to their ASD child’s interests by finding out what their kids are watching, playing, or even searching on Google. An example being if your son or daughter likes watching Nascar or plays video games where they simulate driving a car (ex. Asphalt 8, Mario Kart, Dr Driving) then maybe a family trip to the Go-Kart track would be something to try out to give your child the physical experience that they are simulating, or maybe make an annual trip to the auto show, or even attend a demolition derby. A little emotional regulation never hurt anyone, and these sorts of activities also get your kids out of the house and away from the screen by putting them in a social environment where they can enjoy spending time with mom or dad or maybe the whole family unit. But if you’re taking your child somewhere and they have one or more hyperresponsiveness then it is always best to be prepared as I am sure you know.

Setting Limitations on Screen Time

Maybe your son or daughter really enjoys watching magical television shows or movies: Sofia the First, Little Charmers, even Harry Potter all offer the fantastical element of magic. If you ever find your family in the Toronto area, maybe a trip to Castle Loma would be a nice stop. Are you in the 1,000 Islands area with your valid passports? Maybe a nice cruise to Boldt Castle would make for an interesting day. Even a trip to a magic shop to pick-up a cheap spellbinding party trick could give your amazing child a great experience, and, fingers crossed, hours of time away from the alluring flat screen. Get creative with your activities; the sky is the limit! These are only a small few of the multitude of possibilities that are out there for you and your kids to participate in.
Technology may be a great treat for a child on the spectrum, but it does not need to encompass their daily lives. Exercise is a necessity for growing children, whether you’re kicking the soccer ball around in the backyard in the summer, or having hip-hop dance sessions in the living room – you’re providing them with a fun and tech-free activity while keeping their heart-rate up.
Now, unfortunately, parents cannot provide specialized activities all day every day, which ultimately sends children back into their familiar couch spot with their favourite technology. Sometimes it is easier to let your kids entertain themselves on their devices; there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to sleep a bit later some days (as much as we all wish we could sleep in every day), or wanting some quiet time after work to relax and maybe have a hot shower or bath. Ultimately, though, it is your or you and your partner’s decision for how much technology your ASD child is allowed to have each day. Perhaps you think 30-minutes is an appropriate daily time allowance, maybe an hour, maybe more; the point being that it is parents’ decision on how much time their kids spend on electronic devices – not their kids’ choice.

Healthy Boundaries

At the end of the day though, as parents, we need to be conscious of how our kids spend their time regardless of their diagnosis, because they are still kids with a heck of a lot of energy to burn off, so they might as well use that energy now before their bones start to ache because they bumped into a wall three weeks ago. So, if you are noticing your child is spending too much time in front of a screen, maybe it is time for some healthy technology boundaries. Every child on the spectrum needs a variety of engaging activities with adults and peers outside of the classroom or even the family home, so let’s find new activities that will build our kids’ confidence, and hopefully that confidence will make ASD kids want to walk away from their screens and go outside on their own accord, rather than being dragged away kicking and screaming. All we can do as parents is offer guidance and help aid our children in their developmental growth in a healthy way, so maybe we do something a little bit outside of the box with our kids this weekend. Let’s show kids what the real world has that video games and other technologies don’t.

What “out of the box” activities will you do with your ASD child this weekend? How to make preparations for special outings? We’d love to know. Please comment below, or write to us at info@outfoxmagazine.com

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