Every parent knows that smartphone use in teens is virtually impossible to stop. If you don’t give your teen a smartphone, their friend has one; if you take their smartphone away, either their whole world seems to come apart or they find another way. For adolescents on the spectrum, though, things are a little different.
Teens with autism have a tendency to “escape” into technology. While they may struggle with social interaction and understanding the real world, they can thrive and be strong in a virtual one. It’s easy to see the appeal of that, but it can become unhealthy.
On the other hand, technology offers unique tools and learning opportunities for teens with autism. There’s a line between positive and negative smartphone use in teens with autism, you just have to figure out where it is for your child.
The journey of one boy with autism highlights positive smartphone use in teens
In A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines, Judith Newman describes how her family and life have been shaped by autism–and how Siri, Apple’s AI assistant, has shaped her son’s life. Before this family memoir, Newman had written an article about Siri’s impact on Gus.
Like many adolescents with autism, Newman’s son–Gus–struggles with social interaction and reading people. Siri become someone that he could chat with at any time of the day about anything he wanted.
She explained in the article that as a mother of a child on the spectrum, it can be difficult to talk endlessly about Gus’ many interests and their vast intricacies–but Siri can do it easily. She even offers advice and corrections sometimes, which is even better for Gus.
The reason Newman wanted to get this positive story about smartphone use in teens with autism is because there’s so many negative ones around. For many parents, there may be a fear that if their child becomes attached to a device that it’s innately bad for them–but that’s not always the case.
Newman argues that Siri has indeed helped her son grow. He commonly speaks unclearly, but if he wishes to speak to Siri, he has to enunciate every word or she’ll misunderstand. She has an endless amount of patience, which is something that parents cannot always offer.
When a device turns toxic
While Gus’ story is one of growth and positivity, it’s doesn’t erase the fact that devices can lead to unhealthy behavior in teens with autism (or teens in general).
We should be using technology as something to help us move forward, like how Gus used Siri, but for some teens it becomes a form of escape–much like a drug. It’s our job as parents to recognize when it’s reached a problematic point and intervene.
Seven Stars is here for your family
Seven Stars is a program that treats teens with neurodevelopmental disorders. We combine residential treatment with adventure therapy to create a multifaceted, effective program for adolescents, ages 13 to 18, struggling with emotional and behavioral issues as a result of their neurodevelopmental disorder.
We embed the objectives we have for each student into daily activities and teach emotional wellness skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, social skills, academic skills, self-efficacy, and prosocial behaviors. At Seven Stars, we strive to help our students develop the skills necessary to live full, productive lives.
For more information about how we handle smartphone use in teens at Seven Stars, contact us today at 844-601-1167
Since 2003, Dr. Gordon Day has passionately helped young people with a wide range of family, emotional, social, neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems. Gordon’s mission has been to help people find their strengths and their own passion for living a full and rewarding life. He is particularly sensitive to the pressures, frustrations and disappointments that adolescents face that can sometimes cause them and their loved ones to want to withdraw and throw their hands up in despair.
Dr. Day knows that you really have to understand where a student is coming from and understand their patterns of strengths and needs. When we truly know an individual and their struggles, only then can we truly help.
Dr. Day has pioneered the use of outdoor therapy activities and outdoor living as a dynamic and effective therapeutic tool for learning, confidence building and skill building. His programs provide effective, supportive and encouraging environments that help students find their strengths and power.