Technology and its impact on the whole child: Observations from working with children with Social Communication Disorders

As I dive further and further into the world of social communication, I find a common theme in my caseload for the increase in children presenting with Social Communication Disorders (SCD). This year I enter my 21st year of treating children as a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP). I started working with children with SCD in our Social Butterflies Club® groups 15 years ago. Over the years, there has been a steady increase in SCD in my groups.

I have observed that there are several factors that have contributed to the increase. Initially, the increase in Autism diagnosis brought most of our kids to our groups. However, in the last decade, we began seeing an increase in children with attention deficits being referred to our clinic. As I continue to learn the best practices for treating SCD, I am not shocked at the correlation between technology and attention deficits.

Recently, I was participating in a continuing education webinar on executive functioning skills and attention by Sucheta Kamath M.A., CCC-SLP, BC-ANCDS. I realized that the fairly simple way to remediate attention disorders and build attention skills is just not taken seriously. The solution is simple and easy for anyone to do. However, there is little to no follow through with the technique. There is push back from parents and children alike when the technique is recommended. The technique It is not medication or any wacky, quacky treatment method that costs thousands of dollars. It’s not something that requires hours and hours of therapy. It is an easy solution that simply isn’t well responded to by most people. In fact, the few people that actually DO use the treatment method are seen as “odd” or “unusual” by others. What is this life-changing technique for increasing attention and self-regulation skills in children? It is limiting technology use!

Tablets, computers, even phones that are filled with games,YouTube® videos, and social media apps are now used for hours at a time by preschoolers! I recently read an article written by a linguist Gretchen Mcculloch about how children are now developing language using emojis while texting! Upon further delving into this topic, I found a study done by, Hamza Alshenqeeti, that states emojis are “a form of paralanguage, offering users a means to communicate with their own social groups in a form of code” and is compared in the study to Egyptian hieroglyphics. The researchers found that emojis are really just a form of communicating without using words as was done thousands of years ago. For your reading pleasure, I have linked to the study, Are Emojis Creating a New or Old Visual Language for New Generations? A Socio-semiotic Study, here:

Although fascinating to me as an SLP, I found it a tad bit disturbing that a preschooler was texting. Preschoolers should be PLAYING with toys, not phones! They should be exploring their worlds through play.
I admit that I also used technology when my child was young but knowing the importance of playing and limiting technology, I used some of these strategies that may be helpful to other parents struggling with how to limit technology.

  • Getting back to the basics. Create a space where your child can use their imaginations and create. Encourage your child to play with crayons, paints, markers or other mediums such as Legos®, play doh® — or even cardboard boxes! When my son was younger, we encouraged him to build things with tape and cardboard from the recycle bin. In fact, for years my son received rolls of tape in his stocking from Santa. And guess what? He was excited to get more tape so he could build more creations! When he was older we bought Lego® building blocks for him. This led to an affinity for anything Lego® which we gladly supported. It was not always clean and tidy around our home but he was exploring and playing.
  • Use routines to create healthy habits. Each night at a designated time, make it a routine to clean up and put things away. This could be before bath time or ten minutes before bedtime — whatever is best for your child. This teaches organization skills and time management along with basic chores. Make it fun for your child. We used a timer to see how fast my son could clean up. Each time he tried to beat his best time!
  • Have your child participate in bedtime stories. Reading a bedtime story is a common practice for many children. Before bed, we always read at least one book and when my son was old enough, we would take turns reading the pages. This helped him develop his reading, comprehension, joint attention and language skills. Little did I know back then that this was also helping his executive functioning organizational skills and time management skills.

Fast forward 15 years and my son is flourishing in high school. He does like his social media, but he is able to prioritize his obligations and use technology as a reinforcement after he finishes his homework. He is in no way “perfect” but he has foundation skills that will help him succeed in life as he continues to grow and not rely on technology as much. These foundation skills were formed by playing with objects, playing within his world and by limiting his technology usage.

When conducting an evaluation, a recommendation I always make for a child with social communication disorders is to LIMIT TECHNOLOGY and use technology as a reinforcement. I do tell parents up front that it won’t be easy. It will be like taking a drug away from an addict. However, once the “digital detox” is over the benefits are astounding. The problem is that more often than not, parents will not follow through. The phone or tablet is out in the car or on the way into the waiting room. However, the consequences are that the child will continue to need interventions for his/her social communication disorder. Eventually, the child may grow up to be a disorganized teen or adult who will always be a little “scattered.”

*Disclaimer, This is a professional observation, not a formal research study.

Are Emojis Creating a New or Old Visual Language for New Generations? A Socio-semiotic Study Hamza Alshenqeeti School of Arts and Humanities, Taibah University, PO Box: 344, Madinah, Saudi Arabia