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Sharing Screen Time

We all need to decompress in front of our screen of choice. Whether it's texting on our phones or cheering on our favourite football team, we all need to detach for a moment (or longer) in order to decompress.

For many kids with special needs, screen time can be associated with stimming, gaming, or therapy; a lot of kids have patterns of behaviour associated with technology and can become rigid in their interaction with it.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Considering how comfortable kids are with computers and other devices, it seems to me that if presented a little differently, they can actually be at their most available to connect and learn. Lots of schools are figuring this out and infusing their curriculum with different software programs, but what can we do at home?

Here are a few ideas to shake up our kids' relationships with the almighty screen (have you ever counted how many you have in your house?), to stop the madness and show our kids it is actually possible for us to teach them something they don't already know:

Make a photo book

A few years ago, I made a photo book for my nephew. I used a bunch of old images of him growing up and put really tangible thoughts about events and milestones in his life. He absolutely loved it.

Now he makes his own, but I am the gatekeeper to the all of the photos. If he wants to find the latest family photos, he needs my help (and permission) to find them.

Depending on how much time he feels like spending with me (he is a tweenager after all!), I can elongate this experience by showing him editing tools or other augmentations.

Most of this can be done with very little actually being said (which is always a good thing for us). Through our non-verbal reactions to what we see on the screen, we're experiencing something together and sharing our perspectives.

Make a playlist

Until yesterday, my son thought music magically appeared on our family iPod -- poof!

But when we were able to go through our music library and see the grid of albums, he was able to sample songs and share ideas. We made a playlist together and had so much fun.

The best part is the music speaks for itself. Sharing it together put both of us in a calm and regulated state. And because music connects emotionally, we were learning about each other without having to talk about it.


Video is such a powerful tool, but making them and posting them is a long process.

First, just post one you've made to YouTube so your child can see the final result. Then make one together and post it. All the way along, you can show your child what is important to consider in the process.

Once this five-minute activity is going strong, you can lengthen your time together by augmenting it with script writing, costumes etc. Get creative!

Slow down and delay your responses. I've learned through RDI that the connection is in the anticipation and productive uncertainty of it all.

It's hard not to feel behind with technology moving so fast and our kids so far ahead of us. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's not just about the response or result of what we see on the screen, but the process that gets us there.

One of the reasons we built Squag the way we did, was so that parents and kids could adopt it together and find a new and exciting way to communicate.

We get really excited when we hear from our testers that kids are self-reflecting, building ideas about themselves and sharing them with their parents in a completely different way.

So start small. Build a framework you can come back to. And open up a new way to interact with technology that isn't gaming and isn't therapy, but a mindful, connected, meaningful experience.

Sara Winter is a classroom aide to kids with autism, and an advocate for underestimated kids. She's the founder Squag and lives with her husband and two young sons in Toronto.

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