Sensory Scout Blog

Managing Screen Time for Students with Autism: 5 Steps

Posted by Vanessa Caalim on

Managing Screen Time for Students with Autism: 5 Steps

Our devices can be essential tools, but they can also be concerning distractions. The effects of screen time have been widely studied and documented, and screen time management seems to be essential for optimal health and wellness.

In particular, we are taking a look at screen time and students with Autism. 

Today, around half of children under eight have their own device. Children with devices have been shown to average 2.5 hours of screen time per day. Since the entire world seems to be embracing devices for all types of uses, it’s important to understand screen time’s impacts on young children. 


Positive and Negative Impacts of Screen Time

Positive Potential 


With moderation, there are certainly some benefits of screen time:

  • Easy access to school-related research for homework
  • Some games improve coordination and motor skills
  • Texting and sharing are fun, easy ways to socialize
  • When learning new skills, some children with Autism respond well to videos they can view repeatedly
  • Moderate screen time can help alleviate anxiety in some situations

In moderation, your child can enjoy socializing, learning, and studying with a phone or tablet. Their favorite game might calm or soothe them while helping develop and improve essential skills simultaneously. And texting can often feel like a safe, simple way to boost social skills.  


Negative Impacts 


Unfortunately, too much screen time can have negative effects on children:

  • Limits their means of exploration and learning
  • Can lead to poor academic performance 
  • Inhibits their ability to develop appropriate social skills
  • Can create unhealthy “tunnel vision”
  • Linked to potentially harmful physiological, cognitive, and social effects, including depression 
  • It prevents children from naturally learning from the world around them
  • Can negatively impact reading comprehension and attention span
  • They may unknowingly be exposed to inappropriate or unsafe content

Another challenge is quality sleep. Autistic children often struggle to fall and stay asleep, and screen time before bed impacts sleep cycles negatively. It’s just one more reason why managing screen time is critical for your child’s health and wellbeing. 

Tips to Manage Screen Time


It’s up to you how much screen time is the right amount. But the consensus seems to be that nearly everyone spends too much time on a tablet or phone. For young children, consider modest time allowances, like 10-20 minutes three times a week. 

1. Make a daily schedule. Your child will appreciate knowing exactly what to expect each day. With a consistent, predictable schedule, your child will get into a groove. You can get started with a custom family media plan.

2. Decrease screen time gradually. All transitions are more manageable when done slowly. You might try replacing screen time with other activities like reading, cooking together, or solving puzzles. Add new social activities little by little while simultaneously reducing screen time. 

3. Save screen time for when socializing is hard. Maybe you decide that the ideal time for screen time is while you prepare dinner. Because you aren’t as available to interact or engage, this could be a good time for screen time. 

4. Replace bedtime screen time with something soothing. Screen time right before bed is bad news for anyone. It disrupts healthy sleep patterns and makes for fussy mornings. Consider replacing evening screen time with adventure-story time or something calming

5. Make it a reward. Try making screen time a reward or special treat rather than something that is done automatically without structure or reason. Consider specific exchanges, like ten minutes of their favorite “fishing how-to” videos in exchange for a clean room. 

Managing Screen Time: Conclusion

Children with Autism already have social skill deficits. Their inclination to seek out solitary activities can make them even more prone to excessive screen time than other children. Unfortunately, too much time with a tablet or phone can make social skill deficits more extreme and have adverse long-term effects. 

Eliminating screen time is not necessary, but limiting and managing screen time is essential. Especially for children with ASD, excessive exposure to devices can be detrimental to developmental and psychological health. It can help to think of devices as tools that, when appropriately managed, have the potential to enrich your child’s life. Check out this neat infographic to learn more about fun screen time alternatives for your child.