Updated: Aug 8
Hello, I would like to ask why so many autistic children become so attached to screen time. I know the formal reason, I am also aware that all people can become attached to television, video games, or a tablet. I suppose my question is how do you engage an autistic child when they only want to watch tv, play video games, or play on a tablet? They do not care about toys, books, or anything else other than jumping. How do I become part of their word if they don't want to be bothered?
It’s always difficult to provide good advice based on the amount of information that will fit in a tumblr ask, so my response will be fairly general, but I hope still useful to you.
It sounds like you’re feeling a lot of pressure to engage with your child in the perceived “right” way. I think that’s the crux of the issue here.
When we say that parents can and should become a part of their children’s world, that statement should be taken at face value. It doesn’t mean, “craft a perfect, Today’s Parent-approved world around your child.”
Your child’s world is currently watching television, playing video games, and using a tablet. Quality children’s programming teaches story structure, facilitates echolalia and language development, and models friendship and how to navigate social situations. Playing video games develops hand-eye coordination, teaches problem solving, and builds confidence. A tablet is exactly what you make of it and the apps you put on it.
It also sounds like you are feeling resentment, which is neither productive nor necessary. That’s on you. As a parent, your job is to support and love your child. That means that you need to manage your emotions. Journalling, therapy, and self-care are ways to do that.
Now, instead of thinking of screen time as inherently bad and toys and books as good, consider what ways you could meet your child where they are at and use their interests to facilitate learning. Try offering different kinds of apps: there are apps that teach music, drawing apps, apps to make simple animations, apps that allow you to track the flight of airplanes, apps that show you the stars above you right now. There are apps that even read children’s books and allow kids to read along.
Keep offering new things, and see what interests take hold. Always have captions on, so that television time is also teaching literacy. Provide video games in different genres and using different mechanics. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box or feel constrained by what is typical or arbitrarily “age appropriate” when it comes to interesting or educational apps, games, etc.
Play video games with your child. Ask them about their favourite apps. Discuss the plot and themes of the television shows they watch, and try “writing” an episode of their favourite show together. Jump together. Talk about how and why jumping feels good to their body. Talk about why they like what they like. Keep engaged.
And most importantly, remember that there is no right or wrong way to have a childhood, and that the problem is not that your child “doesn’t want to be bothered.” They are not trying to frustrate or disappoint you. The problem is that you are clinging onto expectations.
Let go and just meet them where they are. It takes more thought, more intention, and more care, but it will be a lot more fun and bring you closer.
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