a child with autism watches a show on a tablet with his father

Tech & Media

Why I Want My Child to Have All The Screen Time He Needs

Mar 2, 2018

My six-year-old son has mild autism, and we let him spend hours with access to any technology his little heart desires. You’d be amazed at what TV shows, movies, video games and dozens of kid-friendly apps can do for a child who has a speech and language delay. (Spoiler alert: it can help teach them how to talk and communicate!)

Technology has been more helpful than we could have ever imagined. So now, the only limit to his screen time is however long the batteries last.

Before his diagnosis at age two, he was full of frustrated cries, screams and what we thought was baby talk — but it turned out to be his own private language that he used to talk to himself, the TV and to his favourite toys. We spent weeks in speech therapy classes — group and one-on-one — over the years. Therapy sessions helped him a lot, but there is one thing I noticed outside of those sessions. When he was alone, playing by himself, he memorized and repeated back whatever the characters of his favourite shows and movies were saying.

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My son would be sitting on the floor of his room, reciting the script of a show he had previously watched, while recreating the scene with his toys. I found it completely fascinating. He learned more words and phrases from his shows, movies and game apps than we had been able to teach him. On top of that, he was using what he had learned on his own more often than the words and phrases we had taught him!

Once, while cooking in the kitchen, I dropped something on the floor. He ran into the kitchen, saw the mess on the floor and said, “Uh oh, what happened?!” I had no idea where he had learned to say that, but was happily surprised when I later heard those very same words being spoken by a character in one of his favourite TV shows! After that, I became more attuned to what he watched and played so that I could recognize when he was using sentences and phrases he had learned from a show or game when attempting to communicate with us and other people in his life.

It’s like a lightbulb went off in my brain! By giving him full access to tablets and game consoles, we could engage with him and encourage him to communicate with us on his own terms. We could now enter into his world and help him better communicate with ours.

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While it started off with him learning phrases and using them in everyday situations, he now has observational conversations with whatever show he’s watching or game he’s playing. Every day I pay attention to what he is watching and playing, whether it be a YouTube video or a video game, and I’ll ask him questions and make my own observations out loud. “Oh, hey! What is that dog doing? Did he throw the ball? Wow, he threw it way up in the air! Oh look! He caught it!” Talking him through his favourite TV episodes, movies and games has encouraged him to do the same.

At the end of the day, he’s part of a new generation of kids who learned how to pinch to zoom on a tablet before he learned how to hold a crayon, and I’m OK with that. Ongoing access to technology has been one of the many forms my son’s therapy has taken that has helped him learn to speak and communicate despite his speech delay.

We place appropriate limits on his device use if he’s ignoring other things like cleaning up his toys or getting ready for school, but otherwise our motto is: play on!

Article Author Tilley Creary
Tilley Creary

Tilley Creary is a freelance writer with two school-aged sons, one of whom is on the Autism Spectrum. Tilley loves wine, her side hustle is calligraphy and she fits both into the 30 minutes of free time she has between the end of dinner and the start of her kid’s bedtime routines. Tilley spends her pre- and post-nine-to-five hours caring for her family, fighting for the rights of her Autistic son and blogging about all things precious to her, because writing things down for posterity is her jam. Find her at PreshusMe.com and on Twitter and Instagram @PreshusMe.

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