Technology is continually transforming the world around us, from the way we communicate to how quickly we consume information. Some of these changes have been positive, and other have been less so. Childhood also looks different with each generation, as children are being introduced to technology earlier and earlier. As technology is transforming many areas of childhood development and education, treatment for autism spectrum disorder and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is also changing.
While there are many benefits of using technology in ABA therapy, there are also disadvantages. As with any treatment plan, the families and therapists should maintain open communication to devise a plan for the most comprehensive care for the child. This plan may or may not include use of technology (frequently an iPad), depending on the unique abilities and needs of the child.
Cognition and Communication: As technology evolves, there seems to be an app to solve any problem and answer any questions. With that, there has been a great increase in the number of apps that assist children with autism build cognitive, communication, and social skills. While some parents and therapists want to decrease screen time with patients, apps can be particularly beneficial for children who are still building expressive communication skills in ABA therapy. For example, children on the spectrum who have difficulty expressing their emotions are able to do so through the use of an iPad app that visually illustrates their feelings (e.g. frustration or anger).
Autism Speaks provides an easy-to-use list of recommended autism apps, which provides an overview of apps that might be useful in ABA therapy. The apps are also divided by category: recreation, social skills, accessibility, behavioral intervention, communication, creative arts, education, functional skills, language, math skills, and organizer.
Organization and Scheduling: There are apps that help children on the autism spectrum build organization and executive functioning schools. These apps can be especially helpful for children on the spectrum who are struggling with staying on task or following a schedule (e.g. creating lists for homework or chores).
Positive reinforcement: If the child is doing an excellent job participating in activities during ABA, using the iPad for 10 minutes can serve as positive reinforcement for continuing these behaviors.
Overstimulation: All children, not just those on the autism spectrum can become overstimulated by too much screen time. If a child is on the spectrum or has a diagnosis of a sensory processing disorder, excessive time on an iPad can result in more harm than good when it comes to regulating behaviors. While some time with an iPad can be helpful in ABA, therapists should be careful to monitor exactly how much time is being spent in front of the screen.
Social interactions: Many children who are on the autism spectrum struggle with social interactions and work to build this skill in ABA therapy. According to a study conducted by UCLA, spending too much time in front of a screen can decrease the ability of children to read human emotions during interactions, as well as create new issues with behavior and socialization.
As children tend to gravitate toward a screen during their down time at home, it is important for parents and therapists to discuss the pros and cons of using technology at home and school (or in sessions).
Do you have additional questions about ABA, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology for children on the autism spectrum? Contact Chicago ABA Therapy to learn about the wide range of services available.