The new normal in 2021 continues with online education, social distancing, Work From Home (WFH) for children and parents. It’s the same for parents of specially challenged kids. Since, most of the human activities are confined to houses or marketplace (keeping in mind Covid prevention norms and regulations). It is imperative for families to be engaged in order to get rid of boredom. Parents of kids with autism have a bigger challenge in the present scenario.
In the current times it is not possible to stop or restrict the screen time of differently abled children. Therefore, it is important for parents to get involved while educating their wards regarding digital media. According to a 2017 study roughly 23 0f every 10,000 children in India have autism. Apparently there are 248.8 million households in the country.
Social Media Matters has been conducting ‘Wranga Digital Parenting Workshops’ for teaching children to be responsible netizens. SMM not just focuses on cyber security issues and fake news but also ethical digital behavior in order to create awareness regarding cyber etiquettes for tweens and teens. Apart from misinformation, disinformation, security and privacy control features, internet bullying or trolling also needs to be scrutinized.
In case of kids with autism, it is a collective responsibility of parents, teachers, cyber experts and online activists to create a conducive digital ecosystem. The Internet is the most liberal and democratic medium for information dissemination, interactions, learning and recreational activities, etc. In the present times social media and OTT platforms cannot be kept away from children for too long. In the age of digital revolution kids are likely to get exposed to smartphones, tablets, Facebook, Instagram, online games, Netflix, etc. Amitabh Kumar, Founder, SMM, said, “The Internet is the most empowering invention of the past century, we need to focus on creating tools to assist persons with special needs. I hope large tech companies can look beyond profits to create viable solutions. It's time to push for responsible social entrepreneurship, rather than a market driven one”.
In such circumstances appropriate guiding and mentoring of autistic children is important. Parents must step in and try to know the interests and preferences of their kids in order to understand their internet habits. Specially challenged children have a curiosity to know about everything. Hence, utmost patience is required on part of parents of autistic kids. The interest and curiosity among special children could be channelized in a positive direction.
What needs to be kept in mind is that special kids are vulnerable to online predators on social media platforms, cyber bullies, etc. Hence, frank interactions with children could help them make better choices and inculcate healthy internet habits. Positive engagement online is possible by indulging the child more into learning and creativity in the digital space. As per a report published in The Hindu, “Prayas Lab, a Bangalore based firm working for the betterment of autistic people, in association with the Autism Society of India, has come up with autism-friendly lessons and apps that can be installed on phones and iPads. There are over 400 lessons under 12 categories that are designed for various purposes like inducing speech and responsiveness, boosting confidence and developing language skills.”
Alicia Blum - Ross, a visiting professor in the Department of Media and Communications at London School of Economics and Political Science, published in her report, “Robert Kostas, a father, shared about his gaming-crazy son with autism “thinks outside the box… he’s got brilliant attention to detail.” But while successful geeks may be quirky, that’s very different from being confident that one’s quirky or geeky child will succeed in a competitive digital labor market.
Indian society comprising the working middle class has not been accustomed with tech savvy millennial culture. Hence, cyber activists and experts can step in to help them with digital parenting. There are many risks while introducing special kids to the digital world. But instead of prohibiting them it is significant to mentor children to engage in innovative and fruitful online practices. There are so many apps and portals helping students with language learning, quizzes and painting. This would help the child gain confidence.
Apart from online screen time as it is always suggested physical activities are important in families for all age groups. Joint families could exercise together as well as bond over indoor games such as ludo, carom, cards, etc. Even in modern nuclear families a daily meditation or Yoga session with special children could become an alternate hobby over tech gadgets and social media.
Coping up with autistic children is indeed a tough task for parents especially when it comes to digital parenting. However, since the online world is the way ahead, we can use this phase to prepare differently abled kids for the digital future.