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use1It’s a fact, the computing use of our children is going to far exceed our own. Computers are being given to children at younger ages than ever and unless you’re living in the Amish community, you’re going to find yourself using computing devices almost constantly in the form of phones, automated teller machines, games, pad devices and even everyday devices such as cooking utensils, refrigerators and washing machines.

The Downside of Computer Usage
Does it matter, you ask? Yes, of course it matters. Computing brings with it a whole host of health problems including those related to eyesight, posture and fine motor skills. Where the kids of the past balanced those issues with a healthy doses of outdoor life, today’s kids are far more likely to spend their whole time inside hopping from PC to XBox to iPad and their smartphones.

There are mental risks too with experts warning that the abundant availability of technology is removing our brain’s natural downtime. Consider this; in the past you would have coped with a long wait in a queue by thinking about the unsolved problems of the day, processing your feelings or, if you were really tired, simply zoning out. Today’s queue time is far more likely to be taken up by email, Facebook or Candy Crush, leaving your brain with absolutely no time to rest.

How Computers May Affect Kids with Special Needs
You might think that these issues will impact all kids equally but that’s not necessarily the case. Children with special needs seem to spend far more time on computers due to their obsessions and their social isolation and they are often far more easily damaged due to low muscle tone, a common problem for special needs kids. The problems of mental fatigue are also more likely to become an issue as many children with special needs turn to computing as a means of winding down from social anxiety but instead find themselves drawn into detailed worlds, such as Minecraft which while calming, generally engage the brain on levels which interferes with rest.

Restricting the Number of “Computer Hours”
So, what can you do to combat this problem? At first it might seem that restricting computer time could help. Certainly adjusting the computer/life balance makes a little difference and in the case of my kids, this has occurred by including scouting in our lives. Unfortunately there is very little that you can do to restrict the number of “computer hours” because your kids are already so far over the limit that taking just a few away is unlikely to make any difference. I spent less than twenty years on computers in much lighter use scenarios than the average person today, before succumbing to an “overuse condition” which has caused discomfort ever since. Even then, my usage started when I was 17, well beyond my childhood years.

Tips for Combating the Effects of Overuse
Given that there is little that we can do to reduce computer time down to reasonable levels, we need to concentrate instead on combating the effects of overuse.

  • To do this, we need to educate our children about the problem. This means teaching our kids to take regular breaks of 5 to 10 minutes every hour and to do stretching and relief exercises during those breaks.
  • We also need to provide our children with alternative input devices. The best of these is arguably ” Dragon Simply Speaking” a voice dictation application.

Unfortunately as parents of special needs children, this is not the easiest task . Another of the gifts that special needs children, particularly those with autism, often have is ” hyperfocus”, the ability to concentrate on specific tasks or subjects in incredible detail to the exclusion of everything else. It’s a gift because it often allows breakthroughs to be made but it’s a problem too because it can cause people to spend many hours at the computer oblivious to hunger or the pain of improper posture. It can cause a lot of damage.

For this reason, it’s not enough to simply educate our children about posture, ergonomics and break management.

  • We have to enforce those breaks too. Fortunately there are many applications which are available for computers today which will pop up reminders when certain character or time limits are reached. Many are free (Wallen, Jack) but the more expensive versions of these applications even suggest appropriate exercises.

In the end though, it’s entirely up to your child. If they keep “managing” their overuse condition, then perhaps they can lessen the impact or even avoid it altogether . If they choose to ignore the warnings it can become a problem that will follow them throughout their working life and perhaps even end their career. It’s best to choose to work smarter, not harder.


Wallen, Jack. Five free apps to help you remember to take a break.  TechRepublic, US. 3 December 2012.