A Parents Guide to Autism: Why is YouTube so appealing?

I’m on many, many Autism based forums and websites. I find it helpful to chat to other parents, hear things from the perspective of autistic adults and just to read that we’re not alone in all this. One of the topics discussed quite frequently is YOUTUBE. There’s questions ranging from ‘how long should I let them play?’ to ‘should I ban it?’. There’s always a range of opinions but for quite a majority of the parents I talk to, Youtube is a God send. I’m one of those parents…

I used to feel guilty about screen time and letting J watch Youtube. It started when he was 2 with various toy unboxing videos and has now become Lego videos (both the show and the ‘making of’ sets). Nowadays the guilt is less…I wont say it’s totally gone but it’s not the same guilt. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not guilt about how long he’s on it or what he’s watching. It’s more a guilt that I used to be so judgemental about young children on tablets. I feel guilty that I’m now ‘one of those mums’. If you feel the same way then I hope that todays blog post will help you (and myself) realise that we don’t need to feel that guilt.

1. It’s a social world but without the pressure

Watching others do unboxing, family days out or just talking to the camera is a way to be part of a social world but without the need to answer them, react to emotions or try to understand body language. There’s no pressure to communicate with them (older children can of course interact through commenting on videos but that’s less pressure than face to face). Children can experience different people, different cultures, different ‘worlds’ all with a confidence they may not be able to in ‘the real world’.

2. They can control what is happening

In the real world there is very little we can control. Some children gain control through obsessions, ritualistic behaviour or refusals. YouTube gives a different form of control. Children can choose what and who to watch, they can rewind, skip forward and change the video whenever they want. They can rewatch videos over and over so they become predicatable. Children can feel comfortable and confident that there’s not going to be a sound they don’t like, a colour or character that can set off a meltdown etc. If there’s a bit that makes them laugh, they may watch it over and over as they enjoy it. If there’s a part with too much emotion then they can fast forward that part. It’s all a sense of control which for autistic children can be very satisfying and a change from the ever moving, ever noisy and ever out of control outside world.

3. It’s an opportunity to rehearse

Social stories are really helpful resources for children who are about to experience something new or unfamiliar. A lot of social stories are in the form of books or print offs. However, on YouTube you can find videos on all sorts of situations from days out to theme parks, dentist visits to haircuts (some children may respond better to a video than print). Children can see what to expect, how the people in the video react and prepare for the noise and sights. We are off to LEGOLAND this month and so we’ve watched a lot of tour videos. J has already planned his rides, looked at what’s there and the crowds. When we arrive, things should look familiar to him so its less of an overload.

4. It can be educational

There’s a lot of videos on Youtube which are…crap. Lets face it, they are boring and daft and rather pointless. However, there’s also a lot of videos which can support language building, concept understanding, learning cause and affect, videos about scientific events you don’t get to see everyday. Children have opportunity to experience things in a way that is less stressful than in other situations. It again comes down to control, feeling safe and not having to contend with sensory world around you. Learning at school or nursery is filled with challenges of other children, adults demands, the noise, the smells etc. Being at home on the sofa with the Ipad is calming. The sounds and smells are ‘normal’. The brain can focus and process better.

In terms of play skills it can always be a support system. Autistic children can become set in their play or use of objects to the point where they lack the flexibility to see other ways to play or explore. By watching toys being played with in different circumstances and in different ways it can give children ideas to imitate. J imitates a lot! It’s how he learns and processes things. A lot of his play is copying things he has watched on YouTube, and he is getting something different out of it each time.

5. It’s developing technology skills

Using a tablet, a computer or even a phone to load, select videos, recognising what the different buttons mean and do…it’s all technology based skills. Our children are gaining skills that are transferable to other apps, to other toys and technological resources. In most vocations now there are large amounts of tech skills needed. By encouraging the use of ICT resources such as tablets and computers children are gaining skills and confidence to develop these further. I make sure J has access to a range of tech toys as well as the tablet (mind you he also knows how to find Youtube on my phone and the TV). We play coding games using the ‘codeapillar’, we have walkie talkies and I have recently shown J how to play games on the laptop using the mouse pad (it’s amazing how many children haven’t seen or used a mouse now that a lot of things are touch screen). I will add that as J is so confident to press buttons and see what things do, we have limited him to ‘YouTube Kids’ just because there’s A LOT of weird stuff out there. Although we supervise his tablet use, it’s still better safe than sorry.

My point is, children enjoy buttons and learning what they do. YouTube has plenty of buttons which have a cause and effect. This doesn’t change. ‘Play’ always means ‘play’, ‘pause’ will always ‘pause’. It’s predictable and a skill they are in charge of.

6. It’s a distraction

Lets face it. There are times where we need our little angels to be amused for a period of time or to divert them from something we know is going to be stressful. YouTube is GREAT for this. Yes, people can say it’s being used as a babysitter but at the same time it’s keeping our children safe whilst we get on with what needs doing. I use it when I need to talk on the phone for an important call that I can’t do any other time, I use it when I need to pop to the toilet and want to make sure J isn’t going to be climbing the back of the sofa in my absence. Also, when we’re out and about and I know its going to be a sensory bombardment or just too ‘much’. A quick watch of a video and he is distracted from the world around him and can get through the queue, the shopping trip or the bus journey. It helps him to feel in control and most importantly, happy.

I’m not saying that it should be on all day everyday. After all our children are going to be adults one day and need to learn strategies to copy in the everyday world. YouTube can’t always be the answer, but I’m a big believer in ‘pick your battles’. So use it when it is right for your child.

So, I hope this list of reasons Youtube is appealing…and helpful has made you feel better about using it with your child. I’d love to know how YouTube has helped you and your family. What videos do they like to watch? How many times have you watch ‘Baby Shark’, haha?

Let me know your views in the comments, or come find us on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. MamatoMoomin&Bear says:

    Love it huni. The girls have you tube on daily we have it available on our tv’s so they have free access all the time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      J figured out how to get it to go from his iPad onto the tv. Honestly he was so happy you’d think he just invented electricity haha x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. MamatoMoomin&Bear says:

        Aww the girls used to do that before the iPad smashed


  2. I love this post! It’s great to highlight the positives of using screen time because they are often useful as you have described so well. For my girls, they love watching these videos of Anna and Elsa with children talking as they move the barbies, which then in turn ignites their imagination and play styles. Thank you for writing this – I’ll be sure to refer to it once again when I hear negativity about using screen time! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Thanks, it made me feel better just writing it. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves when actually there’s bigger and more important battles to be fought x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Totally agree. Until my son came across YouTube he always felt left out. He didn’t have a circle of friends, struggled with reading so couldn’t access books or make his way round a computer screen, But YouTube opened the world to him. He found he could navigate around it by himself. He could look at cartoons, sport, history. I understand the fears but viewing time but if you show enough discretion the benefits are clear,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Aw I’m glad he’s found something that works for him. It definitely opens a whole world to children x


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