The question about if it is OK to use screen time to calm a child with autism or if it rewards the behaviour has been coming up a lot again with some of our families.  In one recent conversation one parent wanted to give the child his ipad so he could calm down and the other thought that this rewarding the bad behaviour he had exhibited. This posed the question…

Is it OK to let a child with ASD have screen time to calm down when their behaviour has not been great?

Tricky question.

Kind of depends on the situation.

In the above discussion around this topic, the child’s mother recognised that the child had not been able to process the instructions and information correctly, and it was this misunderstanding that was the root cause of his behaviour.  She also noticed that he was getting very upset very quickly and knows that when he is in this state, he is not able to process it if she tried to use it as a “teachable moment” at that stage.  This mother-son team has done lots of work understanding his sensory needs and knows that screen time can be a calming activity for him.  Her reasoning was that if he could have some screen time and use it to regulate himself to a calmer state, then she could help him understand what the instruction was more clearly and it could be used as a “teachable moment”

The father in this instance was the one who had tried to provide the instruction to his son about a task that he needed to complete.  He was frustrated that the child was not completing the task and this was how the disagreement had ensued.  The dad reasoned that letting the child have screen time at that point would be “rewarding the behaviour”.

Neither parent is really “wrong”.  Could this be a teachable moment for the parents and the community about understanding how and what works for some of our kids with ASD?

I have also included a link to an interesting article that indicates children with ASD spend a lot more time on screens than typical children and discusses some of the pros and cons of this.

I would love to hear what our Sprout community thinks about using screen time as a calming tool or behavioural incentive for children on the Autism spectrum.

What are the best ways to use screen time for our kids with ASD?  Join us on our Facebook page and comment on this post to share your thoughts.

Monica Leo

Monica Leo