Screen Time and Autism: Tips for Parents

Children with autism often experience low melatonin levels and sleep disturbances. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a vital role in regulating sleep and the body clock. However, screen time, particularly in the evening, can suppress melatonin production and disrupt their sleep patterns instead.

The blue light emitted by electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, and computers can interfere with the body’s natural melatonin production. This disruption can have a negative impact on sleep quality and duration, affecting aspects such as regulating sleep and the body clock, modulating hormones and brain chemistry, balancing the immune system, and regulating inflammation.

To promote healthy sleep patterns, it is recommended to limit screen time among children with autism, especially in the evening hours before bedtime. That’s what we’re going to cover here.

screen time and autism

How to Manage Screen Time

When it comes to managing screen time for children with autism, establishing boundaries, setting time limits, and encouraging alternative activities are key strategies for promoting a healthy balance.

Parents of children with autism are encouraged to establish natural boundaries around screen time. This can be done by designating specific times for access to electronic devices. 

By creating a structured routine, children can better understand expectations and what tasks need to be completed before accessing screens. This helps minimize disruptions and maintain a sense of order in daily activities.

Setting Time Limits

Setting time limits on electronic devices can be beneficial in reducing excessive screen time. 

Fortunately,  many devices nowadays offer parental control features that allow parents to set time limits. Once the set time limit is reached, access to the device can be restricted or certain screens can be locked. This helps ensure that children with autism engage in a balanced range of activities throughout the day, including non-screen activities. This is particularly useful if you’re potty training your child.

Here’s a simple guideline that parents can follow:

  • 2-5 years – 1 hour of screentime
  • 6-10 years – 1-2 hours of screentime
  • 11-14 years – 2 hours of screentime
  • 15-18 – 2-3 hours of screentime

Keep in mind that these recommendations are general guidelines only and may vary based on individual needs and circumstances.

Encouraging Alternative Activities

Encouraging children with autism to engage in alternative activities can help reduce screen time and promote constructive engagement. This includes activities such as playing indoor and outdoor games, pursuing hobbies, engaging in creative arts, and participating in physical activities. 

These activities provide a break from screen time and help develop social skills, enhance creativity, and foster overall well-being.

Introducing children to useful and age-appropriate apps can also be a productive way to engage with electronic devices. Educational apps that promote learning, problem-solving, and creativity can provide a balance between entertainment and learning.

Guidelines for Screen Time

Parents and caregivers need to establish guidelines that promote a healthy balance between entertainment and learning among their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends specific guidelines for screen time based on the age of the child. 

For children aged 18-24 months, screen time should be limited to educational programming with the supervision of a caregiver. Before 18 months, screen time should be limited to video chatting only.

For children aged 2-5 years, the AAP advises no more than one hour of non-educational screen time each weekday and no more than three hours on weekend days. 

It’s important to note that these recommendations are aimed at finding a balance between screen time and other activities that support a child’s development, such as play and social interactions.

Creating Safe and Positive Experiences

While it’s important to set limitations on screen time, it’s equally crucial to create safe and positive experiences for children with autism when they engage with electronic devices. 

Here are some strategies to consider:

By following these healthy screen time practices, parents can ensure that screen time for children with autism is both beneficial and enjoyable. Remember, moderation and balance are key in creating a well-rounded approach to technology use for children with autism.

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