Electronics and Autism

September 14, 2015

Tablets are the best thing to happen to your child with Autism…NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you look up the two words “autism” and “tablets” together you will get a myriad on articles of how great this electronic tool has been for the autism community. I would agree that there has been some awesome apps out there for our children and I have even been sucked in by all the hype that surrounds these devices. For some of our kiddos it has been very helpful tool for communication, which is something all parents want for their children. So, yes, there have been some good things that have come out of the tablets. With that said, I’m here to tell you about the not so glamorous side of the tablet.

1. Children with autism become addicted to tablets very easily to the detriment of everything else. If I were to allow my son free access to a tablet he would literally be on it all day. It is literally the first thing he asks for every day and at night when he goes to sleep he asks if he can play it the next day. He would not be using the tablet to communicate or even to learn something. He would be playing games, watching the same music video over and over and over again, or taking pictures because he likes the sound of the camera clicking. I do not give him free access to it. In fact, for the past month we have not used it at all. I have it locked up in a fireproof safe. Yes, you read that right. It is locked up tight. It is the only way I can keep it put away. He then gets desperate and will take any electronic device he can find. My phone, one of they boy’s school tablets, an old toy laptop. Anything that will remotely resemble a tablet he will take. I even noticed dents on my safe where he tried to break in. If you have ever seen Jurassic Park you might remember the dinosaurs checking the fence for weaknesses, well that describes my son. He checks everyday to make sure the safe hasn’t been left unlocked.
2. All the available apps on one hand is a great thing but also can be a hindrance. My son will play an app for maybe 3 minutes at the most before he switches to another game. He doesn’t stay focused on one game long enough to learn anything. In fact, the only time he has stayed on an app long enough is when I’m sitting next to him guiding him.
3. The next reason it can be a draw back is the whole screen time issue. Just as neurotypical children need exercise so do children with autism. My son would most certainly choose his tablet over any physical exercise. He does not have the same motivation as other kids to go outside and play. I remember one time some neighbors came over to play and when my other kids were going to their house my son wanted to go with them. I was so excited that he wanted to do something “social” and agreed readily to it. The neighbor knew my kids well and was ok with him coming over. This happened 3 days in a row and I was ecstatic. Did we finally turn a corner? After all, we had taken the tablet away not too long ago and he was finally engaging in social activities. It wasn’t long when my bubble was popped. I saw all the kids outside in the yard playing and my son wasn’t with them. I asked my daughter where he was and apparently everyday the neighbor would set him up with popcorn and a coke and he would play their Playstation. What a let down that was! At first, I thought I would bring it up to her in a polite way but we were moving a week later so it wasn’t going to be an issue.
4. The last thing I will mention is that many schools are now using tablets more and more and other learning avenues less and less. My son now has his very own iPad assigned to him at school. I just learned this information so I will have to find out more information about it but I do know he gets to earn it as a reward right now. This makes it more difficult for me. Now, he doesn’t want to go to his therapies that he misses school for because he is afraid he will miss his iPad time. We end up with bad behavior because of this. Also, I have no idea how much screen time he is getting. I’m also concerned that as the tablets begin to gain popularity then OT may be given less and less from the school. They provide OT only if fine motor skills are a hindrance to the child in an educational setting. If that child can do more on a tablet then will he lose his services. That is just a thought I had.

I just want to make sure everyone understands that I am not against tablets. They do have their uses in today’s world and they have done great things for autism. These are just some of the challenges we have seen concerning our son and certainly a plan needs to be in place before giving your child with autism a tablet so that maybe you won’t fall into the same pitfalls we have.