Autism Notebook: Getting Unplugged - Helping Kids Discover Life Outside the Blue Screen

Getting Unplugged

Autism NotebookBy Elizabeth Roberts, PsyD
National Director of Clinical Support Services, CIP
Published in the October/November Issue of The Autism Notebook Magazine

Spending excessive time with electronic technology can be an issue for all students - with or without autism. 

But individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are at particularly high risk for two big quagmires—spending too much time on videogames and other electronic technology and being unable to disengage when the time comes. Both generate a cascade of negative consequences, including increased social isolation and family conflict and decreased opportunities to socialize and practice interaction skills. Academics, hygiene and physical health can also deteriorate as a result of extended use of technology.

A Perfect Storm

In individuals with ASD, many powerful forces converge to make a perfect storm. Perseveration, inflexibility and cognitive rigidity are hallmark features of the disability. Video games and other media are intensely rewarding. They allow users to self-soothe and self-regulate, boost self-esteem with welcome experiences of competency and place little demand on (weak) social skills. The fast pace and intensely stimulating nature of video games appeal to individuals who also have attention deficits. These factors set the stage for compulsive use and overuse.

The Family Suffers

Parents try lecturing and logic, begging and pleading, threats and guilt. They feel angry, confused and inadequate in the face of these spiraling, no-win scenarios. They are bewildered by the tantrums, tears, defiance and near panic they see in their son or daughter. Family relationships are undermined by the increased strife and reduced social opportunities, which affect the entire family.

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