Screen Addiction and Autism

Okay, shortly before Christmas I realized we had a problem.  D was screen addicted.  Don’t get me wrong, D and I had battled forever.  Over everything.  Lately it was about homeschool, whether he was going to do it or not and how much, and OT, his only therapy left.  He usually left OT in a meltdown, either running across the parking lot or having to be dragged to the car.  I was at a serious loss as what to do.  I tried rewards, which is what usually caused the meltdowns when he didn’t earn them.

Our daily schedule left much to be desired.  After school, D was able to watch tv and some days that’s all he did all day.  It simply didn’t occur to me to equate some of the behavior issues with television in any way.  The days we’d have therapy I resorted to the iPad in the waiting room, and a couple of days per week we’d be there hours.  Plus, the therapy waiting room had PBS on the whole time as well.  It was an exercise in futility and frustration.  I had long since tried meds, only to be refused behavior meds by our doctor because D wasn’t “severe enough.”

Finally, one day the lightbulb came on.  D was watching tv.  It had been a therapy day, so D hadn’t had as much tv as he usually did.  He had an accident in his pants (not unusual), and refused to go to the potty because the tv was on.  When I insisted he gets cleaned up he melted down.  I realized he was behaving exactly as my alcoholic father had when he didn’t have enough to drink.  I had a screen addict.

So, I had to come up with a solution.  First, we did no screen time for almost 72 hours. It was during christmas break so I didn’t have to battle over schoolwork.  Then it was time to portion it out and make him work for it.  The first rule I made was that he earned 1 hour for completing his schoolwork.  If he didn’t want to do his schoolwork that was fine.  His decision.  BUT he had to accept the consequences which were 2 fold:  1. No screen time earned  and 2.  We added Saturday as a school day so no spending the night at Memaw’s Friday night.

The second was this:

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I had long since wanted to start D on chores, but daily battle was so exhausting that I couldn’t even imagine it.  These days it’s up to him.  Being lazy cost him his screen time.  Younger brother, A, also has chores, but his are less tied to screen time since in general he is more cooperative.

We also came up with a schedule:

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I mostly use the schedule to advert the blame for not being able to watch tv or having to do school or any of the other such things he doesn’t want to do.

Currently, screen time is maxed at 2 hours.  His iPad is given as reward in 30 minute increments and everything on it is educational.  He can’t do video games because his emotional regulation is poor and he gets too upset.  I must say this has improved our life immensely.  We do still have behavior issues, especially since spring is on it’s way.  I never realized how much of his behavior is due to too much screen time until I stopped it.  I will say life without as much screen time is a lot of work.  D doesn’t play a lot and much of my time is spent trying to engage him in an activity.  Fortunately, hubby is understanding about the housework.

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