Managing Screen Time for Children with Autism

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused


By Bridget Anderson, M.Ed., BCBA                                                                
Giving children with autism opportunities to socialize and participate in leisure activities with others can help them learn and practice new skills. However, many children on the autism spectrum struggle with communication and social interactions and prefer solitary activities such as watching videos or playing video games on electronic devices.

Finding leisure activities that a child with autism enjoys is vitally important – especially if that child has very limited preferences, which is often the case. Therefore, parents may be pleased if using electronic devices for entertainment is one of their child’s favorite activities. However, managing the usage of electronic devices is important because too much screen time can interfere with a child’s learning, and opportunities for social interactions and play. It can also contribute to other negative outcomes such as sleep issues and mood changes.

How much time is too much time on screens? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than one hour of non-educational screen time each weekday for children ages 2-5, and no more than three hours on the weekend days. For children 18-24 months, the AAP recommends that screen time be limited to educational programming with the supervision of a caregiver. Prior to 18 months, screen time should be limited to video chatting only. 

Here are a few tips to manage screen time for your family and child with autism:

  • Have a daily routine. Predictability and a consistent routine with clear expectations for the activities your child will engage in during the day will help them know what to expect. 
  • Set times when screens are allowed. Within your family’s daily routine, think about important times of day that you would like to be screen-free, such as family mealtimes. Plan times when screens can be available and consider how it might benefit both child and parent. For example, if your child struggles to play independently while you make dinner, this might be a good time to allow screen use. Consider using a visual schedule for the day indicating when screens are available or unavailable. 
  • Make the transition away from screen time successful. To prevent the likelihood of problem behavior when ending screen time, consider using a timer. Give your child a reminder that time is close to ending (e.g., “two more minutes left”), and have other preferred activities available. Avoid transitioning immediately from screens to an activity that is very challenging or much less preferred for your child. 
  • Use screen time as a reward for completing a less preferred activity such as getting dressed or brushing their teeth. Let your child know using simple language such as, “First brush your teeth, then screen time.”
  • Ensure you’re aware of video content and approving any apps your child would like to download. Apps usually have an age rating as well as a description. Video access can be limited by the parent in a variety of ways from picking an age range to hand selecting the approved videos or channels. Sit with your child and be a participant in the leisure activity so you can better understand the content they are watching and games they are playing. Knowing how your child is using the screen by familiarizing yourself with the content will minimize exposure to content that is not age appropriate. You can also research parent control apps, which can block certain apps and websites, create screen time schedules, and help monitor content.

While limiting time on screens is important, spending time with electronic devices can offer many learning and independent leisure opportunities for a child with autism. It can also be a preferred activity that you and your child do together. By familiarizing yourself with programming, creating a schedule, setting boundaries with usage, and learning about and using parental controls, you can make screen use a safe and positive experience for your family. 

Bridget Anderson, M.Ed., BCBA, is the Executive Director of the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit