The Big Screen Fast

Sara Stythe by Sara Stythe Additional Needs

Sara Stythe

Sara Stythe

By sharing our experiences of what it is like raising a child with special needs people can understand our little people a bit better. Hopefully th...

I cannot believe the difference in Isla since removing screens 5 weeks ago.

She had a few to chose from! The iPad, the laptop, the computer, and the Nintendo Switch, I stupidly bought her for Christmas thinking it would help with her social didn't!

The humble TV was never switched on with her preferring to flick between YouTube, Minecraft, the occasional game and her Nintendo.

The television is now the only screen Isla is allowed with family movie nights now and again!

Firstly let me say I am not the Device Police

Devices were ruling our life at home. Isla would wake early, often at the uncivilised time of 4 am or 5 am, purely to get back in front of a screen.

She would choose to stay in her virtual world over pretty much everything else, including interacting with others.

After seeing the complete change in her since removing devices you may question why we didn't do it sooner.... there are many reasons.

So if you are reading this and still in that place I don't want you to feel any guilt or despair.

I would refuse to read any articles about how modern-day technology was bad for our children's brains.

Although I used to sometimes wonder what she may be doing if she didn't have access to devices, it was always in the too hard basket. I simply didn't have the energy.

I also don't regret exposing Isla to technology.

In fact, I'm really grateful for devices as they helped us get through those early years.

In Isla's first 10 years of life, she was impulsive, hyperactive, reactive and pretty hard to parent. They definitely helped save my sanity.

A screen helped us toilet train. The only way we could get her to sit on the potty or toilet long enough was in front of a screen.

A screen helped her try different food. The computer distracted her enough to mindlessly eat and then she would realise this new food tasted good after all.

A screen allowed us to go out for dinner as a family.

A screen helped teach her to read. She surprised me one day when reading out all the Minecraft elements.

A screen helped her to learn. Isla has an enquiring mind and would often search YouTube videos to explain things where she needed a more detailed description.

A screen stopped the house being destroyed while I was busy around the house.

Isla has poor impulse control/executive functioning. She often touches mindlessly, unscrews and unpackages everything (I partly blame YouTube What's Inside!!).

A screen gave her sensory feedback.

 Isla is a huge sensory seeker.  A device seemed to give her the visual input and stimulation she needed to keep regulated. She was in control and this made her feel good.

It all sounds pretty good and harmless right? It was but then it wasn't.

I came across a really good article "The 4 Week Plan to Reset Your Child's Brain".

It is an overview of a 4-week program that psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley, M.D. developed to reverse the impact of too much electronic screen time on the developing vulnerable brain in children and teenagers.

From this, I devised a plan to start our device fast or detox.

One of the recommended steps was doing a thorough "screen sweep" and completely removing all devices. This had never really occurred to me before.

The way I had previously attempted reducing screen time was to slot it into her visual schedule.

She was allowed it upon waking and then again as a reward after getting ready for school.

This never worked.

She would sneak it down at breakfast or find another device to go on if the iPad was taken away.

If I managed to keep her slightly on task she would rush through everything mindlessly so she could return to her chosen screen.

Suddenly armed with this new strategy of going "cold turkey" I felt more confident I could do this. I fully expected there to be tantrums and resistance though.

I explained to Isla how it was bad for her brain and we were going to have a month's break from devices. She actually seemed okay with it.

I don't think she fully believed it and I was prepared for some backlash.

So we started. It was my job to teach Isla what to do with no device to fill her time.  I planned to have the day structured with various activities to choose from but it turns out this wasn't needed or wanted.

Isla’s Device Fast - The First Four Weeks

The First Week

On the first day Isla woke and scoured the house for a device. With no iPad or laptop to be seen, she ran down to check the computer.

The cord had been removed and she looked a bit panicked!  She finally settled down to read and listen to a new CD book once she realised we were for real.

Was nice to see her arrive in the kitchen and help peel a carrot for her lunch.

As after-school activities don't start up until next week I booked in Isla's carer buddies in every day after school.

Isla is already used to having no devices when they are here.  She enjoyed a week of playing babies, board games, pretend play and art with her student friends.

She went looking and asking for a device at every opportunity for the rest of the week.

Mornings were the hardest.

She would make numerous attempts to turn on the TV. Found her Leap Pad at the back of her wardrobe and started charging it up.

She even resorted to playing with the phone and its tiny screen!

I had to tell her that all her devices had been removed from the house to prevent her from climbing up the bookshelf and pulling the cushions from the couch.

I also explained to her that we weren't taking all these things away to punish her but to help give her brain a break.

It wasn't until day 5 she made no mention of a device.

Even though she was constantly looking we did not have one meltdown and this was really surprising.  From day one she seemed calmer, more engaged, less drained and balanced.

As the week went on she became less manic and hyper, not trying to rush everything to get to the iPad.

Her sleep improved. Some mornings she was sleeping to 7 am.

Often she would wake up and then, realising there was nothing better to do, would go back to sleep.

She spent more time in the garden, playing with her sisters and even went on a scooter ride after a day at school!!.

We constantly had to keep her busy and distracted. Every time she was at a loss I would give her suggestions of what she could do.

We read photo books, travel scrapbooks and Rainbow Magic chapter books together to fill the gaps that were previously spent on the iPad.

It took until day 4 for her to start playing with her toys again.

Day 5 was a great day!!! Isla was out of her virtual world and in the real world.

She started making her own breakfast and lunch. Put on some washing. Used the Dustbuster to clean front entrance. Did therapy exercises. Topped up the dogs' water.

Cleaned own teeth for longer than she ever has. Walked Bo to school on her own (with me alongside, of course). Helped me clear and do dishes after dinner.

At this point, it felt like she had changed her strategy and was on her best behaviour so we would allow devices back.

So we talked about getting her Nintendo Switch back after the 4 weeks as a reward.

I made it clear that it will be only on weekends and for one hour only and she seemed happy with that.

We had a couple of family movie nights during the first week.  I noticed immediately when the movie started so did the vocal stimming. It was loud and really obvious after not having heard it for a few days.

Isla had to choose a movie that everyone else wants to watch rather than watching the same one over and over again. This caused a bit of distress.

Week 2

Isla comes and has a chat most mornings when she wakes up and isn't rushing off and isolating herself with a device.

She still tries to turn on the TV most days and tries to run off with my phone.

By the end of the second week of term we are back into a busy schedule and Isla has managed to fire off some random texts.

She has also been found on the computer watching Captain Underpants when the cord has accidentally been left plugged in.

She thinks it is hilarious when she is caught!

I love how she is playing with her toys again but gets anxious downstairs alone.

Her love of books is growing. She falls asleep with books all around her.

By the end of the week is picking up and reading her Rainbow Magic chapter books herself which is encouraging to see.

It's pretty constant making sure she has something to do and not getting into mischief but still definitely worth the extra work.

She is so much more interactive with people and in the world.

She is having way more sleep and there are moments when she just lays still.... just chilling out.

I love how she is so helpful in the kitchen and keeps up with the washing.

We are managing to keep to our exercise, writing and reader schedule.  It takes a little coercing but is a lot easier than battling with getting her off her iPad like we used to.

She is really enjoying visiting the library and choosing new books. Is so much less tired and enthusiastic to come on outings like visiting the supermarket.

One thing I have noticed is that when I brush her hair in the morning she does not scream out and cry like she used to.

Maybe this is because she is getting more sleep or maybe because her sensory system isn't over stimulated.

Week 3-5

Life has got busy but having no devices have become our norm!!!

Books have replaced the iPad and Isla likes to shop for books rather than toys. She reads books on the toilet, reads books in bed and reads books while eating her breakfast.

Isla is especially keen on Captain Underpants Books and has moved on from the Magic Kingdom Fairy books (thank goodness).

She is picking up and reading books herself and I haven't had to read to her much at all now.

Her CD player isn't being used much at all apart from lullabies at night time since she discovered chapter books.

She still is trying to grab our devices at any opportunity.  We have to be vigilant!!!

Toys cover our living room floor.

She spends more time in the garden, jumps on the trampoline with her toys and plays with water.  It takes me back to when she was 3 years old before the iPad took over.

She is happier and less stimulated. Loves to chat. Is getting more sleep rather than pushing through tiredness.

She is more engaged and alert. Is more helpful and compliant.

Isla is still a busy girl who loves to touch and explore (and sometimes break) everything.

She would still like to sit in front of a screen all day long, if she had a chance but I am so amazed we have got this far. It feels a huge weight has been lifted.


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