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 video games and other electronic technology, and being unable to disengage. Both generate a cascade of negative consequences including increased social isolation and family conflict and decreased opportunities to socialize and practice social skills. Academics, hygiene, and physical health can also deteriorate.
In individuals with ASD, many powerful reasons converge to make a perfect storm. Perseveration, inflexibility, and cognitive rigidity are hallmark features of ASD. 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 those individuals with ASD who also have attention deficits. These factors set the stage for compulsive use and overuse.
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 increased strife and reduced social opportunities, which affect the entire family.
Flip the status quo. Parents should take ownership of the electronics both literally and with the use of parent control systems. Explain to your child or teen that he/she will earn controlled access by participating in the new, chosen activities. For example, if your son or daughter agrees to try swimming twice a week, then he/she earns access to preferred electronics X number of minutes per week. Finalize the deal, but keep the upper hand.
Many parents easily set up a behavioral program on their own. Some parents seek out the support of a behaviorally oriented psychologist or other mental health professional if they’re not sure they can do it on their own.
Tired of arguing? Have you noticed it doesn’t work? Positive, reward-based approaches that systematically enhance another’s motivation to establish new habits and behaviors are easier, more effective and a lot more fun. This approach can work for anyone you’d like to help -- typically developing students or otherwise. Give it a try.
Dr. Elizabeth Roberts is the Director of Clinical Support Services at College Internship Program (CIP), a comprehensive transition program for young adults on the autism spectrum and with learning differences.
Links: Parental controls over electronic technology
MacMullin, JA, Lunsky, Y, Weiss, JA (2016) Plugged in: Electronics use in youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism vol. 20(1) 45-54.
The College Internship Program is a comprehensive transition program for young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with Learning Differences. Our Mission is to inspire independence and expand the foundation on which young adults with Autism, ADHD, and other Learning Differences can build happy and productive lives.