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Values and Guidelines of Using Electronic Devices on Children with ASD

It is a fact that technology is an enormous part of the modern era. Electronic devices such as smartphones and tablet computers have been wildly used among people across all age groups. Reasonably, many people are concerned about the negative effects brought by electronic devices on young children.

The latest guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested:

  1. Screen time is not recommended to infants who are below 1 year of age
  2. For those who are 2 to 4 years old, sedentary screen time should not be over 1 hour each day
However, what does this mean to children with ASD? Does it mean absolute zero screen time even if it functions as powerful reinforcer or effective teaching medium for our children when learning essential skills?

According to the DMS 5, ASD is manifested by persistent impairments in social communication and social interaction across contexts, limited and repetitive interests and activities. Given their lower interests and skills in social and play, it is possible that some children with ASD spent too much time on electronic devices.



The situation could be complicated by behavioral issues such as poor compliance and inflexibilities which leads to disruptive behaviors when devices are withheld, terminated, or not being used in a certain way. Furthermore, self-stimulatory behaviors, for instance fixation on calculator on smartphones, or jumping in and out of apps without actually playing them could be seen in children with ASD as well.

Nevertheless, the values of electronic devices in the treatment for children with ASD are undeniable. For example:
  1. They could serve as effective reinforcers to increase learning motivation
  2. Digital presentations allow children to learn and apply acquired skills in electronic formats which is beneficial for generalization
  3. New language, cognitive, and play skills can also be learnt through educational and non-educational apps
  4. They are helpful in closing the gap between ASD and typical children
While electronic devices can bring positive effects to treatment, it is imperative to use them with caution.

Guidelines of Using Electronic Devices

  1. Develop Compliance
    To avoid disruptive behaviors induced by termination or denial of electronic devices, we must first increase our children’s compliance so that we have full control of how and when to use them. If a child displays high-level of disruptive behaviors when devices are terminated or denied, it is best to strength his/her general compliance in other contexts before including electronic devices in the training.

  2. Terminate at the ‘Right’ Time
    How would you feel if someone interrupts you or tries to take away your device when you are about to break record while playing your favorite game? This is not to suggest to let your child plays until record has been broken. Yet, it is useful to terminate devices in the most optimal time, for example right after finishing one level but before starting the next or immediately after the game is over.
  3. Do Not Overly Rely on Electronic Devices
    It is natural for us to go back to the same thing if it works. Nonetheless, relying heavily on electronic devices as reinforcer can lead to satiation and does not favor expanding our children’s play skills and scoops of interest. Moreover, the majority of games/apps is solitary which might hinder social development and interaction opportunity.
Although whether or not screen time should be allowed to young children and how much screen time is the most appropriate are still under debate, we do need to realize the needs and challenges of children with ASD is unique and it is important to consider the pros and cons of electronic devices before making a decision.



Information provided by:

Teresa Ng (Autism Partnership Senior Case Supervisor)
Teresa Ng
Ms. Teresa Ng, a master degree holder in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from St. Cloud State University and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, joined AP in 2001. Over the past decade, she has received regular training from Dr. Ronald Leaf and Dr. John McEachin and acquired extensive experience in treating and developing treatment programs for young children and adolescents with ASD as both therapist and supervisor. Apart from providing parent training, staff training, consultation to local and oversea families in South Africa, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Mainland China, and conducting workshops in local preschools and non-profitable organizations, she has been responsible for overseeing Little Learners, a simulated kindergarten classroom using ABA approach. Currently, she is responsible for local and overseas consultation, case management, program design, and case supervision.

Ms. Teresa Ng’s related event:

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