Electronics Use and Autism – Taking Questions from Wanda

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What are the pros and cons of limiting electronics use, for example YouTube and Minecraft? asks Wanda.  She’s been getting conflicting advice from people who, she says, don’t deal with this issue.

In our personal experience, electronics use has been a wonderful thing on many levels.  I’ll start with an explanation of those positives.

YouTube has allowed Jake a way to express himself and to take in information in a safe way, that minimizes his need for personal interaction.  As I write this, I realize that it sounds like it’s enabling a negative behavior, but I choose to see it in a positive light.  Jake would have little to no interaction with people if given his choice, but he is able to film his interests and share them with the world – and he gets to allow himself the filter of the Comments section to formulate his conversation/reaction.  That seems like a convoluted way of explaining that Jake will take a video of a train.  He will then post that video to his YouTube channel.  Someone else with watch his video and comment.  He will then reply to that comment.  I see this as beginning to build bonds with others who share his interests in a less menacing, in-your-face way.

He feels more comfortable viewing the world through a viewfinder.  He often shares videos with others, which is in essence sharing a bit of himself, without having to be skilled at verbal communication.

He has been able to utilize services like YouTube to learn about things that interest him, usually in short film form that is not only portable, but easily logged and re-watchable.  The endings become familiar, and the material less daunting or scary.

He has been able to join in with his peers, and those of his siblings, though video games like Super Smash Bros, Minecraft, and Mario Party.  Having that layer of protection between him and the outside world (or in this case, the person sitting next to him on the couch), allows him to breathe a little easier.

I can keep tabs on what he’s doing online.  He is always logged into his Google/YouTube account, and does not yet know how to access or (shudder) delete his viewing history, so I can easily see what he’s been looking at when he thinks he’s alone.  It’s usually a mix of Godzilla, trains/planes, video games, corporate logos, and his own stuff.  Here are some screen grabs from my phone.  image image

There’s nothing scandalous, and I can sleep a little easier knowing what he’s taking in.

As for negatives, there are a few.  I can see how this kind of behavior can be seen as a “crutch” that keeps him from being “forced” to interact with people on a more human level.  His passions sometimes border on the line of obsession, especially with corporate logos and blooper reels about the Columbia Pictures lady, which is our latest thing.  But like all phases/fads, this too will pass.  I’ve just learned not to worry about it too much.  Jake’s one of those kids who burns hot for something for a short time, then moves on.  I never thought we’d see the end of Annoying Orange.

Plus, Jake loves this stuff.  His YouTube channel has over 370 videos that he’s taken, and he has 90 subscribers.  It’s his thing.  If he was locked away in his room obsessing over the piano, he’d be hailed as a prodigy.  I see him having a future in videography, or at least web design/management in some capacity.

So, I guess I tend to look at these things as an adaptive tool, there to help him find his way in the world, and see where and how he fits in.  This is, of course, applicable only to my Jacob, who is a unique little butterfly in the world of kids with special needs.  If your little snowflake perseverates to the point of not being able to function outside of her electronic device, then maybe it’s a different story.   Jake can still put his iPad down and go play basketball, go on a bike ride, and sit down for dinner.  Tech is a part of him, but not the whole kid.

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