Is TV Bad for Autistic Children: An Answer and Guidelines

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Does Too Much TV Cause Autism?

In 2006, Cornell University business professor Michael Waldman wondered if there was a link between television viewing and autism. Waldman and three colleagues conducted a study to see if his there was a correlation between autism and watching too much TV. Waldman collected data from California, Oregon and Pennsylvania. According to his findings, in areas where there were large numbers of cable television subscriptions and heavy rainfall, there were corresponding spikes in the diagnoses of autism. So, according to Waldman and his colleagues, there was a “suggestive link between watching television and autism increases.” Huh? Other experts also expressed their skepticism at Waldman’s pronouncement.

In essence by looking at the number of cable subscribers, weather forecasts, and autism diagnoses in certain areas, Waldman concluded that television viewing was the possible cause of autism. Many people immediately began to question Waldman’s assertions given that no data were collected on the amount of actual television viewing hours for children diagnosed with autism. There was no definitive evidence to substantiate Waldman’s claim that autism was possibly caused by watching too much television.

TV and Autistic Children: Is it Good or Bad for Them?

However, parents still worry. Is TV bad for autistic children? Does television have any positive effects on autistic children? Parents of typical kids have heard for years that too much TV is bad for them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two to four hours of television for children over the age of two. For autistic children and their parents, no such guidelines exist.

Autism is a complex and unique condition. No two autistic children exhibit the exact same traits or behaviors. Some autistic children enjoy watching movies and other age-appropriate television programming. Others watch little or no television. There are also autistic children for whom watching television increases or causes self-stimulatory behaviors.

Is watching TV a good or a bad thing for autistic children? That’s a good question. And just like the disorder itself, the answer is unique for each child. Below are a few brief guiding questions that parents of autistic children may want to ask themselves when weighing whether television viewing can benefit their child.

Guidelines for Television Watching for Autistic Children

  • Is the program appropriate for my child’s level of functioning?
  • Does my child enjoy viewing the program or learn something positive from watching it?
  • Have I previewed the program’s content (or do I have an idea what it’s about)?
  • How long will I let my child watch television?
  • Does television viewing contribute to isolating my child from the rest of the family?

Just like parents of typical children, parents of autistic kids need to consider the pros and cons of the medium. There are wonderful educational programs, music channels and kid-friendly networks that can be used as teaching tools for autistic children. In contrast, there is also lots of violence, inappropriate subject matter, and unsavory images and messages that may confuse or frighten an autistic child. Each parent must look at his or her child and decide if watching television will be meaningful, harmful or relevant.

So, on the one hand, parents of autistic children can relax. Watching television does not cause autism. However, on the other, parents need to control and monitor the words and images their special needs child may be exposed to through television. Autistic child or not, that’s just good parenting and good, old-fashioned common sense.


“Study Suggest Possible Link Between TV Viewing and Autism in Children” DeNoon, Daniel, October 20, 2006

Does Watching TV Cause Autism?” Wallis, Claudia, October 20,2006