Monday, June 13, 2011

Screen time and the Autistic child

There is much there has been said about the problems of screen time and autistic children

There have even been studies that claim autism is caused by screen time
( one of my friends calls a famous series of videos – as Baby Autism and not Baby Einstein)

We read that fire together wire together and that the neurons pathways being formed with too much screen time are not the right neural pathways ( this is the downside of neuroplasticity )
I know I myself have worried about this myself

However the stellar Danette's BOB will have some wonderful bloggers post on the whys and hows to  set limits on media

So I will talk about a few other aspects around media in our lives and how DH and I think about it and limit setting
 The first aspect  is about how DH and I approach R's day

Our approach thinking about what we want his day to have – instead of thinking of what we don't want his day to have.

These are two very different approaches So for instance we want each day to have to have the following parts
  • 1 part reading comprehension and conversation
  • 1 part physical activity, sensory , outside time
  • 1 part foundational physical ability ( ST/PT/OT )
  • 1 part Floortime
The rest of the parts to be filled with daily logistics, love fests ( which my little one gets an extraordinary amount of as we are a very demonstrative unit ).
 The above is a very different way of thinking about the child's day, than an eliminiation perspective,( for example , simply thinking in terms of "no more than 2 hours in front of a screen")

Second , we do want him to have portion of downtime – whatever-he-wants-to-do-time ( honestly I feel this is a basic human right that well-meaning loving parents often dont think about this)

Fourth, we give him a reason to want to be in our shared world.

We entice him into the non-screen world.
Screen time IS addictive – but so is play - and social interaction ( yes , even for autistic kids )

And as long as we  have the energy, we find many many ways to keep him in our shared world

The fifth aspect is how we use media as a way to connect with our child. Our Floor time psychologist observed us interacting with our son last month .

She observed that we initiated many interactions that he ignored.Her recommendation was that we need to build up a repertoire of things that get us a "wow" reaction from him .

These wow things are what we need to build interaction around

(One of the strongest findings in neuroplasticity, the science of how the brain change its structure and function in response to input, is that attention and emotion is almost magical in its ability to physically alter the brain and enlarge functional circuits.)

Not surprisingly many of these "wow" factors for R,  are around media

And so I look for ways to use media to get a connection going.

And I find them

So for instance,I and R play with blocks when he watches Little Einsteins( a show )  - enacting the way in which the " little Totem pole" triumphs with the help of the Little Einsteins.

Finally,as I look to the future, I am very glad we live in a digital age.

Not just for me ( though the internet has been a huge boon for me - helping me reach moms, dads, professionals and methods - including Floortime - that I would never have had before )

But also for R .

I can see R connecting with other like minded people  through social media - better than I see him connecting through "play dates".

I can see a career with computers

We are living in a digital age and its more for the better and less for the worse .

This post has been written for Danette's Wonderful Best of Best Bloggers to be published sometime in June  


Rachel said...

K - I love how thoughtful you are in your writing. That you inspire whether you aim to or not. And that your posts are never lacking in the basics - love and respect and cherishing.

That being said... I worry about the screen time thing with my own kiddo. So this is a wonderful way to look at it - how we want to fill his days WITH things, and not so much WITHOUT. Love it.

AutismWonderland said...

Great post! We had some of the Baby Einstein videos, they bored my boy to distraction. Anyway, I'm not a big believer in media/tv causing autism but I understand parents hesitation to introduce early on.

I do believe it's about balance. In my post for BOB, "Managing Screen Time. Easier Said Than Done." I described how we use media to teach.

Lizbeth said...

I love this post! We too struggle with getting the right balance.

Bright Side of Life said...

Hello back! :)
Screen time is a biggie! I also love technology and my son would be a total screen addict if I let him! Trouble is, he would zone out and I wouldn't feature.... which is what is happening right this very minute!!
Time to go!! :)

DH said...

Screen time is perhaps one of the few areas where K & I mildly disagree. Here are my reasons esp. since there is no scientific data that has convinced me otherwise.
1. Our little ones lead such regulated lives and busy schedules that if they want to spend all their little 'free' time on the screen I don't worry because every kid needs to spend their free time doing what they like - we never begrudge a typical 3,4 or 5 year old if they want to spend time plaing with dolls or a ball but a child spending time doing math and playing word games is bad.

2. Screens are a substitute for peers and guides. The computer is a great source of information for R and he often searches for stuff he needs to know - this was very useful since he had limited language. Currently a large part of his scripted language is based on screens. I personally believe he developed his reading and spelling skills at 3 because he was motivated to interact with the computer.

3. Since I do not regulate R computer time I find that it reduces scope for conflict between us. Also during his vacation I now find that he often gets 'bored' of the screen himself and we have more voluntary yard time as he has started to get interested in the outdoors. Sometimes he will run in the yard holding his iPad and I have had to retrieve my laptop from the tree house more than once :-).

4. Yes, there are some days in the year, when we are on vacation, where he spends a lot more time on screen. But then he's on vacation too!

Anonymous said...

I love this post- very interesting ideas. And you are such a good mom, putting so much love and thought into what your little boy does each day.

Anonymous said...

When my son was a toddler, he would not watch TV. It was too busy and unpredictable for him. At 3.5 he would watch some cartoons. I do not think that TV "autismizes" people. My Dad, brother in law and I are on the spectrum. None of us had over watched TV as youngsters.

However, media can help an autistic unwind. Dad likes to watch old "Ellery Queen" detective programs repeatedly. The predictability is soothing for him.

I agree that media must be balanced with other activities. You can't turn your life into an Ellery Queen Marathon! You have put together an excellent program for your son. Kudos to you!

Now, Tyoma watches Curious George/Max and Ruby. After school, he winds down for an hour with his programs. That hour is the difference between compliance and defiance for us. Later, we process social rules/comprhension. So rock on with your schedule. You are doing outstanding work! :)

jazzygal said...

I really like the way you think. I think you have a fine balance there.

Screen time is a huge problem here for us. As you know we are further down the road than you as my guy is 11 and xbox MAD. before that it was wii..previously nintnedo..etc etc.

I totally agree that our kids need downtime to do what they want and I make agreements with my son to try and limit his xbox time. I would LOVE him to 'go outside and play with the other kids' but he doesn't want to and there's not that many of them anyway.

There are advantages to this digital/technology era and their screentime. Most of our kids will probably end up working in this area anyway.. so we're well ahead of the game! That's my excuse! Seriously... my guy wants to work in Gamestop! I of course want him to work in Google or Microsoft ;-)

xx Jazzy

Anonymous said...

great topic! we are also trying to find this balance since introducing rhema to the iTouch last year.

i love that R's day includes love fests! =)

Anonymous said...


Allison said...

K - this is a very thought provoking post. It's interesting that you have found a 'way in' by sharing the media experience with your son. I agree that if it's something he loves (as my son does) then it can be a way to connect.

D. S. Walker said...

I love this post! You allow your love for your child to guide you and that is always a good thing. Our society definitely gets hung up on numbers when there are so many other things that are equally or even more important. You are doing a great job!

Jenna said...

My name is Jenna and I came across your blog. I am trying to find out more about autsim. My mom really thinks I have it, but it is hard to get me diagnosed. I repeat things, obbsess, Anxiety, can't handle change, Reasoning. My cousin has border line Autism, and she is a lot like me. I was born with a rare life threatening disease, and many more. I love it when people sign my guestbook or email me.

Asperger_Mom (Chi Yon) said...

I see you have found a balance. It convinced me for sure. Before my son's diagnosis, his best friend was the computer I'm afraid. But he did excel due to use of social media. A great blog. Thank you for sharing your story.

Yuji said...

Very thoughtful post. We too, sometimes find it challenging to find ways to interact with our son, and we can use his excitement over something he saw on YouTube (or whatever) can help spur an interaction. I'll be curious to see if your observation about social media holds true for my son... I'd love for that to be the case!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, and has given me ideas on how to restructure D's day.

TherExtras said...

Excellent and lovely as always, K.

I would ask for a little explanation of "1 part basic mechanics(ST/PT/OT)"

Somehow 'mechanics' is not semantically descriptive of those therapies (of which I am 2/3). I am certain your meaning is not derogatory, but I would like to better understand how you chose that word for those therapies. Thanks, Barbara

danette said...

Love this! It's funny, my older boys loved the Baby Einstein videos when they were babies / toddlers but grew out of them by around 3-4. Bitty had no interest in them as a baby but started getting interested around age 4, then stopped, and now he's borderline obsessed (at age 6).

I like what you said about building the day around positive activities (what we do, not what we won't do) and the opportunities that come from technology. I can totally see my twins finding a career as software engineers or video game coders or something like that :). The guy who invented Pokemon is an Aspie :).

Floortime Lite Mama said...

@ everyone- Thank you guys so much for your kind comments.. they mean the world to me
@ Barb - I am so sorry for using the word "basic" - I should have said "foundational" ( and I have changed the language to reflect it ). In the early years of me learning about Autism therapy, a lot was said about harnessing motivation, and not enough about his actual ability to do things - for example the reason he did not say "mama" was becasue he was not motivated to say "mama" - this was only half the picture - the other half was that he actually could not make the sounds nor put them in the right sequence

Flannery said...

It's a really hard balance to find. Fortunately mine has actually benefited from some of the shows and movies. It seems to have helped his imagination and his play skills. Still, there has to be a limit for sure. Sounds like you work hard and are doing a great job!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, K - I get your meaning now and am happy you see the 3 therapy-types in that way. In your response comment you give such a good example for explaining what I sometimes say: motor first!


Þorgerður said...

...endless strive for balance.... I am a screen lover of the worst sort :)

Martianne said...

I love your "parts" what a great way to look at your day and an excellent way to fill each day with abundance, love and purpose. Thank you for sharing. said...

I love that you fill your days with love fests.

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