Choosing apps that can support children and young people
Your child may have a narrow range of things he or she does online. It is common for a child with autism or other special needs to find a favourite game for example and play it for hours on end. Can you use their love of tech to introduce other activities that might become favourites? Try apps for making music, maths, puzzles and logic.
Of course for health reasons you will be thinking about:
1. How much exercise your child gets
2. How much sleep they’re getting
3. Does your child snack on unhealthy food while online?
4. Is the game appropriate for their age and development?
5. And who are they talking to in the game?
How to adjust routines as things change
With no school hours, your child might be deprived of structure and routine which can be upsetting. Create a new routine and give your child plenty of advance notice of what will be happening. Let your child make adjustments after a few days if the routine is not working well. You might use tech prompts as reminders for this new routine.
Instead of arguing over meal times and the dreaded moment where you ask them to stop and come and eat – give them ample warning in advance of when they will need to walk away from what they are doing. Talk about this together calmly and reward them if they stick to it. You may need to work out how long in advance to give this warning or multiple warnings to suit your child and of course the time it takes to play a level of the game or complete the activity.
Using apps and online tools to help children develop key skills
Encourage games that develop some interaction or connection with others in a safe way with settings you can adjust.
- Console games with a motion sensor develop motor skills and require co-operation.
- Skills such as self- control, expertise, co-operating with other people and communicating can be developed in online games and team activities.
- Drawing apps or games like Draw Something are enjoyed by some children who like the challenge and social aspect of drawing a word so that others guess it, while others teach themselves to play music via an app or YouTube videos.
- Some sports fans like to watch videos of cricket bowlers perfecting their swing over and over again. Collecting photos of a hobby can involve a Pinterest page.
How tech can support young people’s wellbeing
Many young people find simply playing arcade games on a mobile phone can be soothing –‘It helps me manage my moods’ explained one 13-year-old with anger issues. Talk to your child about what they enjoy and why – you might gain insights into their motivation for doing certain things online which can be helpful when thinking about how to meet their needs. Many communicate better behind a screen without the need for eye contact and this can be liberating. Brush up your knowledge about keeping children safe online and the risks they might face – for example, in-game spending is an issue for many autistic young people, so check the settings to make certain your credit card cannot be used without your permission.
One thing is certain, if the family time your child spends offline is dominated by rows about how long they spend online, they will increasingly turn to their online life to escape. So how can you make offline time really tempting, supportive and interesting?