Study looks at how kids with autism spend their screen time

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) tend to be preoccupied with screen-based media. A new study by Paul Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, looks at how children with ASDs spend their screen time.

“We found a very high rate of use of solitary screen-based media such as video games and television with a markedly lower rate of use of social interactive media, including email,” Shattuck says.

The study examined data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a group of more than 1,000 adolescents enrolled in special education. The NLTS2 includes groups of adolescents with ASDs, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and speech and language impairments.

Data revealed that nearly 60.3 percent of the youths with ASDs were reported to spend “most of his/her time” watching television or videos.

“This rate appears to be high, given that among typically developing adolescents, only 28 percent have been shown to be ‘high users’ of television,” Shattuck says.

“Television viewing is clearly a preferred activity for children with ASDs, regardless of symptoms, functional level or family status.”

Nearly half of the youth with ASDs in the study (41.4 percent) spent most of their free time (outside of school or work) playing video games.

“Given that only 18 percent of youths in the general population are considered to be high users of video games, it seems reasonable to infer based on the current results, that kids with ASDs are at significantly greater risk of high use of this media than are youths without ASDs,” Shattuck says.

Shattuck says that the high use of video games on children is concerning because it makes the youth unavailable for social interaction or learning.

Social media contrast

Study data show strikingly lower rates of use of email and social media among youth with ASDs.

“We found that 64.4 percent of youth with ASDs did not use email or chat at all,” Shattuck says.

“Kids with speech and language impairments and learning disabilities were about two times more likely to use email or chat rooms than those with ASDs.”

Shattuck says that as cognitive skills increased and children with ASDs grew older, use of social media increased.

“This proclivity for screen time might be turned into something we can take advantage of to enhance social skills and learning achievement, especially recent innovations in devices like iPads,” he says.

The study, “Prevalence and Correlates of Screen-Based Media Use Among Youths with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” is published in the current issue of the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders.

Lead author on the study is Micah O. Mazurek, PhD, assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Remaining authors are Shattuck; Mary Wagner, PhD, principal scientist at SRI International; and Benjamin Cooper, a data analyst at the Brown School.

The full study is available at