Autism and Screen Time: Special Brains, Special Risks

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Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are uniquely vulnerable to various brain-related impacts of screen time. These electronic “side effects” include hyperarousal and dysregulation—what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome—as well as technology addiction, to video games, internet, smartphones, social media, and so on.

 

Why? Because a brain with autism has inherent characteristics that screen time exacerbates. In truth, these impacts in occur in all of us, but children with autism will be both more prone to experiencing negative effects and less able to recover from them; their brains are more sensitive and less resilient.

As a framework for understanding these vulnerabilities, it’s helpful to know that screen time—particularly the interactive kind—acts like a stimulant, not unlike caffeine, amphetamines, or cocaine. Also know that children with autism are often sensitive to stimulants of all kinds, whether pharmaceutical or electronic. For example, children with autism and attention issues often can’t tolerate prescribed stimulants, a standard treatment for ADD/ADHD. Stimulants tend to make children with autism irritable, weepy, over-focused, more obsessive-compulsive, and unable to sleep. Stimulants can also exacerbate tics, self-injurious behaviors, aggression, and sensory issues. 

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