In my last few posts, I've looked at the positive and negative effects of media and device access for children with Asperger's syndrome. It's clear that while our children certainly benefit more from the media than their neurotypical peers, excessive access is still quite harmful.
In this post, I want to look at some techniques for limiting media access and overcoming the negatives in a sustainable way.
A word on Sustainability
No technique is worth using unless it is sustainable. If your partner isn't going to stick to the rules and routine, then it simply won't work. Similarly, if you think that you can only stick to a new routine for a few weeks, then it's no good. In that case, you should choose a different routine - one that is sustainable.
The Use of Rules and Routines
Children with Asperger's syndrome handle rules extremely well. That's not to say that they will obey them without reinforcement but simply that clearly stated (and written) rules have the best chance of being followed.
Here is a sample set of rules/routine that we use in our house on school days;
NO Toy Room, NO TV, NO Games, NO Computers
7am Get up
Get Dressed in YOUR OWN room
Put your socks on.
Go to breakfast
7.45 Breakfast Ends whether you're finished or not.
No going upstairs after breakfast
Brush Teeth and Hair, Wash face
Put your lunch in your bag.
8.15 Leave for school
Mum will do a bedroom & toy room inspection while you are at school.
Take Bags to the table.
Empty Bags - give notes to mum.
Empty Pockets - rubbish to go in the bin
Get Lunchboxes out of bags, empty rubbish and put on kitchen bench
Put Bags in cupboard
Put shoes in cupboard
No going upstairs until after homework.
If your rooms and toyroom are already tidy, free time otherwise tidying time.
Free Time until 5pm but No Games and No Computer - If it's not raining, go outside.
Snacks - Fruit, Bread and cordial ONLY - No PACKETS.
5pm Homework hour - 5pm until 6pm
6pm Bathtime and Put Pyjamas on
Hang up uniform.
Mum will inspect.
WHEN OK, then you can play in the toy room or computers, games etc.
8.30pm Lights out.
It's always easier to stick to a routine if you have an incentive such as a reward. Food rewards (sweets) are extremely effective but have a lot of side-effects both health and hyperactive. Money works with most older children but things get expensive very quickly and you'll find that the kids quickly start to assign value to certain tasks and will only pursue those they deem "worthwhile".
In my experience the best and most sustainable rewards systems are the intangible ones. In particular, free time, TV time, game time and computer time.
There are other kinds of intangible rewards too;
My kids for example will sometimes be rewarded with a "lunch order" which means that they can get fresh lunch from school instead of having to take sandwiches.
Sometimes the reward is an extra-half hour of "staying up" and sometimes it's "an award of choice". For example, I'll often tell the kids to come downstairs wearing their pyjamas. The first one downstairs and correctly attired gets to pick their drink or dinner plate. Depending on the meal, they may opt for the largest or the smallest but the reward itself is "choice".
It's very easy to give out little rewards like this randomly and it gives you, the parents, a motivational edge. Personally, I don't tell my kids that there is a reward for completion of a small task like getting changed first. Instead I offer it on a whim. This gets the kids reacting all of the time without locking me into promises.
In the sample routine, you'll notice that I specify end-points like bed time but not necessarily beginning points. This provides its own reward because the kids know that the sooner they complete a task, such as showering, the more free time they will have.
Keep them Busy
Kids use the media out of habit when they are bored. It makes sense for the kids to use media on rainy days although there are other options too then, like board games, hide and seek and playing with toys. On sunny days however, kids should really be outside.
Unfortunately, something is missing in many of today's kids; the spirit of adventure. In many ways, it is our society that is to blame. We see every stranger as a paedophile, every cut or bruise as potentially gangreous and every kid as potentially a "bad influence". In our over-protection, we've taken away our children's independence. I use scouting as a way of combating this and I'll happily let my 11 year old walk to the park or to the shops. He's allowed to go by himself but we prefer it when he takes his 8 year old brother too. Nothing makes me a prouder dad and scout leader than when my son does appropriate preparation before an outing. This means;
- Taking a look outside at the weather
- Taking a backpack
- Taking water
- Taking food
- Taking a buddy (his brother)
- Telling us where he is going
- Wearing appropriate clothes
- Wearing covered in shoes and socks.
- Wearing a hat (or at least taking one if it's not sunny right now).
I was floored the first time he did this.
Be Engaged or Provide Distractions
There's no sense in putting your kids outside if you're going to confine them in an area (the backyard) with nothing to play with. Swings are often not enough and even the most enthusiastic jumper will eventually get bored of the trampoline. As a parent, you need to find the time to go outside and play too or at least find a way to vary the outside routine.
If you can do this, you'll find that electronic distractions will be quickly forgotten.