It’s not uncommon for children on the spectrum to gravitate toward video and computer games, especially since they receive the stimulation they crave through the visual cues. Channeled correctly, video games can become an energetic outlet and learning tool for your child. Their time on the computer, X-Box or Wii can also give you a much-needed break. It becomes problematic when the child begins to dictate the play schedule versus the parent.
We’ve all been there. A trying day with your child can quickly become quiet and calm as they settle into a video game. You can finally relax and take a breath. On days like this, it’s easy to consider allowing your child to play at length just so you can accomplish other things. But this can be a slippery slope to navigate. Here’s why.
As you probably know, children on the spectrum tend to fixate on specific things or activities that provide an appropriate (or even over-the-top) form of stimulation. Video games certainly rank high in this regard. By allowing your child to play unsupervised and at long length, his stimulation moves into overdrive, which will make it that much more difficult to pry him away from the computer or television. And the response you might receive as you stop his playing could be painful for both of you.Below are some strategies you can experiment with to determine what might work best for you and your child. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does highlight some of the most successful methods to transition your child from a stimulating video game environment to a new activity.
- Discuss a specific timeframe for play with your child beforehand. After he’s begun playing is the wrong time to set a limit. It’s far more successful if you talk this through so he knows he only has a set amount of time to play each day. Temple Grandin recommends only one-hour per day. I generally favor 45 minutes.
- Give your child choices about how to use his limited time. Does he want to use it all at once or would it make him happier to have shorter bursts of activity throughout the day? By giving him control over his time, you empower him to make decisions that will work best for him.
- Enforcing whatever timing you decide upon is easy if you use a timer. It’s even more effective if your child manages the timer. This reinforces the limited time aspect of play.
- Don’t re-negotiate timing with your child once the timer “dings.” He may ask for more time, but your job will be to remind him of his agreement and steer him to something new.
- Refuse to give into a tantrum, if it happens. But don’t be overwhelmed by this response.
- Reduce the chances of a tantrum by introducing a new favorite activity. For example, playing a quick board game may be just the thing to help him transition from the video game to a less-stimulating event. Distraction is the key here.
- Highlight his positive behavior. Do compliment him on his ability to move away from the video game to something new. Do this even if he’s crying because he wants to continue playing. Acknowledge that you know it’s hard, and that you’re proud of him for doing what you asked. Reinforcement of positive behavior will reap rewards at that time and in the future. Always catch him “being good.”
- If your child is “sneaking” video game time, hide the remotes, controllers or the power cord to the computer. While this may sound mean, it’s yet another way for you to have control over his video game time.
Like most other things in your child’s life, you have to be aware. Providing parameters for video game play will allow him to enjoy a favored activity without pushing him to the edge of over-stimulation and unwanted behaviors.