AAC, iPads and the Devil in the screen.
The way we interact with technology is changing out brains, our bodies, our relationships and our children. There is a myriad of evidence to support how damaging screen time is for the brain, especially the autistic brain.
Many Silicon Valley Technologists do not allow their children ANY screen time. They even hire nannies as “phone police” for their kids and sign “no phone contracts” meaning they are not to use “any screen for any purpose” while supervising children.
These are the folks that make the devices and the software that our children (shouldn’t) interact with daily for hours at a time.
The reason why the tech pioneers are keeping these devices (and social media) away from their children is because it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. It acts as a stimulant – similar to cocaine. That’s right, screen time is literally pixilated crack. Anyone who has ever played (or seen) Candy Crush Saga knows exactly how sinister this truly is.
Me: Hey those hotdogs look great. Everyone seems to love them, what makes them so special?
Hot Dog Vendor: We put cow lips, hooves and battery acid in them. No one should eat these, but I am doing my best to make them as marketable as possible.
Me: Which one is best for my kids?
Hot Dog Vendor: Kids? I wouldn’t feed these to my dog.
Me: I’ll take 3
I can attest to this with my own kids. My son’s eyes are drawn like magnets to any screen anywhere. If we are at a restaurant and there is a TV on, I either have to change his seat or constantly snap him out of the trance. The interesting thing (or most devious) is that it doesn’t matter what is on, he will watch it all with the same vacant daze. If he gets this kind of buzz off a TV, imagine what an iPad would do?
We can’t even compete. It’s like offering steamed broccoli when there is a double chocolate ice cream fudge sundae and French fries available (mmm, Sweet and savory).
What we are dealing with on a social and biological basis is not communication, but addiction. This is a major problem. We haven’t been able to evolve fast enough with these changes and they are disrupting the way we learn, interact and experience the world. The restricting response (and omission) from those who create, manage and sell these products shows just how pervasive this issue is becoming.
This creates an interesting rift for us as SLPs. We work with a non-verbal clients that interact with the world using a device (mainly iPads). They carry it everywhere and our goal is to get them to be functional communicators using their device in every environment. But we also use apps as reinforcers or rewards for doing good work. It is becoming increasingly popular to use tablets for the context of therapy.
Colleague: “Look how great he does with these language concepts on the tablet! He is so engaged!”
Both look down at the student’s fully retracted neck, eyes glued to the glowing tablet.
Me: “But will he generalize it?”
Colleague: “Will he generalize anything we teach him?”
It is fascinating the way that non-verbal children on the spectrum take ownership of their devices. The autistic brain is much more susceptible to the already massive impacts screens have on attention, sleep cycles and sensory integration. They often use it more to self stimulate (e.g. pressing the buttons or swiping the screen with the purpose of feeling the click or hearing specific sounds).
I have one student who loves the symbols for St. Patrick’s Day and Divorce… go figure. I have another one who enjoys creating large numbers and then playing it with his ear next to the output.
Teacher: “I’m so proud of the way he uses this device – he uses it all day. ”
Student: types multiple buttons on the device; “We make shall bath shoes in face car not and boot pants the”
Me: *bangs head on desk*
As SLPs, we must understand what exactly this screen is doing and strive to create functional contexts for our clients to use their devices. We are fighting a war against pixilated addiction. Our client’s output for communication is the same medium used to input their insatiable appetite for images, sounds and textures. The same way an alcoholic walks past the liquor aisle on their way to the produce section in the supermarket.
We are authorities on the social linguistic aspects of communication and we are professionally obliged to understand how screen time affects all the domains we strive to improve in our clients. We must understand the severity of this and how screen time is impacting our clients, our children and ourselves.