Optimizing Screen Time for Kids With Special Needs

Jul 17, 2018

Having two children with learning disabilities and speech difficulties, I can say that modern technology has been a blessing to our family. The iPad has given my children a way to communicate, the computer has helped them write and apps have improved their academic skills. However, until recently, I had not realized how much they were using technology at school as well as at home. Their screen time was nearly double what I thought it was.

Symptoms of Screen Time Abuse

Unfortunately, research today shows that too much screen time is not healthy for children. Unhealthy after-effects can include sleep disruption, inability to recognize emotions, sensory overload and a hyper-aroused nervous system, obesity, stress, aggression and poor focus, to name a few. Additionally, kids can become addicted, with some experts comparing its affects to those of cocaine. Autistic children and teens have even more difficulty unplugging, since social engagement is already a challenge for them.

Screen Time Solutions

What's the solution? The reality is that TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets are a necessity of modern life and can help your child thrive. However, parents need to teach children good habits to prevent them from spending a dozen hours a day in front of screens. Right now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two avoid screen time altogether and that older children are limited to two hours per day.

Tips for Optimal Screen Time

As a parent, how can you ensure that your child's screen time is being put to good use and reduce unnecessary viewing? Here are a few tips to optimize your child's screen time:

Parental control software, like Net Nanny® helps parents maintain their house rules by being able to customize screen time usage and filtering settings

  1. Come up with a maximum screen time you'd like your child to use daily.
  2. Reduce screen time in increments on a daily basis to wean your child down.
  3. Ask teachers and staff at your child's school how much time is spent on tablets using educational programs or as a communication tool.
  4. Request that the school avoid using screen time as a reward and do the same at home.
  5. For children who use tablets to communicate, find alternatives, like the Picture Exchange Communication System, so they have another option.
  6. Plan family activities for times when screens are most in use.
  7. Limit or eliminate screen time on school days.
  8. Consider eliminating screen time on certain weekends, for example, alternating, once a month and holidays.
  9. Plan a "media-free" week for the whole family to reset.
  10. Leave smart phones at home or in the car on family outings.
  11. Put your devices in a lockbox at night so early risers can't get them.
  12. Use apps that let you program screen time limits, such as Kindle's FreeTime app.
  13. Set up "screen-free" zones in your home. (I recommend bedrooms!)
  14. Get your children outside on nice days, making sure they leave the tech devices indoors.
  15. Download a blue light reduction app to help protect your child's eyes and sleep habits.

Technology is an important tool for children with special needs, but wisely managing screen time will also help keep their brains functioning at optimal levels. What do you do to optimize your child's screen time?