Monday 11 February 2019

Autism, Gaming and Screen Time

Screen time has become a buzz word of the 2000's. Back when I was growing up, it just wasn't an option to have so much screen time; many families were lucky if they had one screen to share! Today I came across a great post from Yvonne Newbold​, called Screen-Time and SEND children - How to get the balance right. In it, she reminds us that back 'in the good old days', there were other worries for families. In another 20 years time, there'll probably be a different worry which we haven't even thought of yet.

Personally I've had to let go of any pre-conceived ideas of how much screen time is suitable when it comes to our autistic daughter. For Sasha, the iPad, the laptop and the various gaming consoles are her main forms of entertainment, tools for her to be creative and also a way of relieving stress and winding down after school and at weekends.
She doesn't enjoy reading (understatement of the year; she has been known to scream at the sight of a book), struggles to play board games with others due to high levels of anxiety over losing and she's not generally a fan of TV or movies. She does enjoy craft activities occasionally, but only when she's in the right mood and has an idea for something herself - she rarely allows others to suggest projects for her. 
Sasha with a paintbrush and a smile
This weekend I managed to persuade Sasha to help me paint the downstairs toilet room. Getting her involved made me feel happy and like I deserved a medal all at the same time. Every other weekend since New Year we've been roller skating at the nearest rink; Sasha's decision to try a new activity and the fact she has actually continued with it has also had me smiling and skipping. This weekend though, we didn't make it to the rink (long story, involving me forgetting whether I had put her roller skates in the car #mumfail) and so it felt as if she was spending even more time on her screens than usual. I get 'twitchy' about it like most parents would, but know that there's not much I can do to change it - just 'telling' what to do really doesn't work for Pathological Demand Avoidance.

It's much easier for us to keep an eye on the amount of our older daughter's screen time, not least because she attends activities outside of school which keep her occupied and socialising with others. Sasha can't cope with clubs and after school activities; we've tried a few over the years but not many have lasted for any length of time. So she spends a lot of time in the house, and a lot of time with a screen, self-directed. There's an upside to this of course; as Sasha's social circle is very limited (and that makes me sad, because she does want friends so very much), it means that we are not currently having the same issues with social media sites which other girls her age might experience. Sasha was very excited to meet a new girl recently who she instantly clicked with; she happily told me it was because 'she is a gamer too!'

There are times when we manage to engage Sasha in other activities, but the PDA means it's always on her terms. Here's Sasha making a cake at the weekend; we've just made another tonight. 
Sasha making a cake
This is largely because she's been watching a lot of cake baking shows on Netflix of late, especially her favourite 'Nailed It!', but also because she wants to make a special cake for her older sister who is appearing on stage in a big show this week. Sasha has even sketched her own design for this double layer cake - hopefully I'll be able to share that with you at some point in the future! So don't ever let anyone say that autistic people generally are not creative or don't have good imaginations, or that too much screen time stunts this opportunity - that certainly doesn't apply to our girl. In fact I'd say that the iPad has taught her much; I've written before about how YouTube is one way in which she is learning how to communicate with others.

We are extremely lucky that Sasha doesn't seem to become overly obsessed with any one game to the exclusion of everything else though. Yes, she loves her Nintendo Switch, particularly Mario and Kirby, but we have been able to enjoy family time together playing these games*, something which otherwise might not have happened. Yes, she knows all there is to know about Pokemon, but she's also created her vision of new Pokemon in the basic Paint app (a graphic tablet is next on her wishlist of gadgets!). She might not want to read books, but she has written her own imaginative stories in the Grammarly app. She will tell you that the iPad is her life, and it's true that she will nearly always have YouTube videos on loop while she plays on the laptop or game consoles - even when not watching the iPad, she seems to find comfort in hearing it on next to her. Is that too much?! I'm sure for many parents, they would feel it is. They don't live with my child though; I have to have confidence and faith in my own ability to judge what is best for her. 

For those shocked at the thought of letting a child have so much screen time because of what it might do to the child or how it might influence them, I'd gently suggest that nobody really knows whether it's a bad thing for my child. Of course we monitor her activity; this part we do feel is highly important. I'd be surprised if you could come back to me in 40 years time and prove all our girl's future problems are caused by too much iPad time. Yvonne's article covers many great points which are relevant to us and to many others I'm sure, so I'd encourage everyone to read it with an open mind. 

*we must however, always play the same games (Mario Chase and Luigi's Ghost Mansion) over and over, and let Sasha win. Not doing so causes her to become very distressed and takes her a long time to calm down from. Very occasionally we can branch out into some of the many other games we have, but only when Sasha suggests it....

For more information about PDA, please read the book shown below: 
* this is an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you click and go on to buy anything. It won't cost you any extra.
Book cover for Understanding pathological demand avoidance syndrome in children, by Phil christie, margaret duncan, zara healy and ruth fidler
(Other PDA books can be found in my 

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?

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  1. I find my eldest really needs screen time after school. I think it's his way of winding down and destressing after all the social demands from his day. I too get a bit twitchy about it but it comes down to picking your battles. My new screen time issue is that my 3 year old has worked out how the TV controller works!!

    1. Hope you have by now wrestled the TV remote back :D

  2. This reads like my daughter in particulsr relation to the you tube a d other activities all at the same time. She has learnt so much and often puts her learnt skills into practice.

  3. This blog post validates everything about parenting my 5 year old son. Thank you so much. I appreciate your blog and knowing that I'm not alone

    1. Ah I'm so glad it has helped. You're definitely not alone! x


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