Parent Concerns and Screen-Based Media: Teens with ASD and Typically-Developing Peers

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
C. A. Cohen1 and A. R. Marvin2, (1)Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD, (2)Painter Bldg 1st Fl, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD

With the ubiquitous use of technology among teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their gaming and video viewing habits have become an important concern to parents. Given that restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities are diagnostic of ASD, researchers are beginning to investigate the excessive and inappropriate use of screen-based media by people with ASD.


  • To understand parents’ concerns with the video and gaming behaviors of their teens with ASD
  • To determine whether parents’ concerns are different for teens with ASD and typically-developing (TD) teens


An anonymous 80-question survey was administered online to parents/guardians of children ages 13-17 living in the US with and without ASD. Participants were recruited using the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) and social media. The survey ran in October and November 2015.

348 survey instances were completed: ASD=264 (76%); TD=84(24%). Male-to-female gender ratios for TD (1:1) and ASD (5.87:1) were in the expected range.


Three groups were used for analysis: ASD with normal-or-above intellectual ability (ASD-Average; n=131); ASD with lower-than-normal intellectual ability (ASD-Low; n=133); and typically-developing teens (TD; n=84). No TD teens were attributed with lower-than-normal intellectual ability. Logistic regression was used to compare parental concern across groups, controlling for child’s age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

Video-viewing behavior. Nearly all teens in our sample viewed videos. The ASD-Average teens’ viewing habits were of the greatest concern (58.7%) as compared to ASD-Low (44.6%) and TD (34.5%). The difference between the groups was statistically significant (χ2(6)=13.88, p=.031).

Parents were asked to describe their main concerns. A thematic content analysis revealed the following themes for the ASD groups, in order of frequency: inappropriate/violent content; excessive viewing time; need for parental controls/monitoring; and safety.

Gaming behavior. A majority of teens were gaming, with the ASD-Average group gaming significantly more than the other groups at 91% (χ2(2)=7.10, p=.029). Many parents expressed concern; however, the logistical regression model demonstrated that gender was the key factor, with parents of boys being far more concerned than parents of girls across all groups (χ2(6)=18.61, p=.005; gender male, p=.005).

A thematic content analysis of parental concerns revealed the following themes for the ASD groups, in order of frequency: excessive time spent gaming; bad content/content that overexcites (including sexual, profane, inane, and violent); problems with other gamers in social gaming; frustration with gameplay; safety; and behavioral issues, including oppositional behaviors, violent behavioral, and meltdowns.


Parents of teens with ASD were worried about their teens’ judgment and the excessive amount of time spent watching videos and playing games to the exclusion of other activities. Given recent research on the relationship between the excessive use of screen-based media and issues including oppositional behavior and sleep problems, more research needs to be done to clarify these associations so that interventions can be developed.