What are the unique risks and opportunities for neurodivergent youth when introducing and monitoring the use of digital media? What should parents and caregivers know to promote safety, accommodate sensory processing differences, and minimize parent-child conflict? How can new technologies be designed to better accommodate neurodiversity among kids?

Children and Screens held its first #AskTheExperts webinar of 2024, “Nurturing the Neurodivergent: Unique Considerations for Youth Screen Use,” on Tuesday, February 6. A panel of leading researchers and technologists shared the latest academic findings as well as personal lived experience with neurodivergence to provide tips and recommendations for parents and caregivers in navigating and guiding the digital experiences of neurodivergent youth.


  • Meryl Alper, PhD

    Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Northeastern University
  • Abigail Phillips, MLIS, SLIS, PhD

    Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Annuska Zolyomi, PhD

    Assistant Professor of Computing and Software Systems, University of Washington Bothell
  • Kristen Harrison, PhD

    Richard Cole Eminent Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media, University of North Carolina
  • LaChan Hannon, PhD

    Director of Teacher Preparation and Innovation, Department of Urban Education, Rutgers University Newark; Co-founder, Greater Expectations Teaching and Advocacy Center Inc

The unique needs of neurodivergent children and youth can often be overlooked, both in the development of technology and research on its impacts. Parents, educators, and caregivers are especially interested in how to support neurodivergent youth in maximizing their digital experiences and minimizing potential harms. In this #AskTheExperts webinar, an interdisciplinary panel comes together to share their research and lived experience, and to answer questions such as: How can we guide media use by neurodivergent youth that supports their socio-emotional and learning needs with a minimum of family conflict? What are particular considerations for school-based use of technology for neurodivergent youth?

0:00 Introduction

Kris Perry, MSW, Executive Director of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, introduces the webinar and panel moderator Meryl Alper, PhD, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University. Alper briefly discusses how studies that address inequality in children’s engagement with digital media tend to exclude disability and notes that race, gender, class, and gender play a role in how disability is experienced. She provides a brief overview of neurodiversity, general trends in media use of neurodiverse youth, and unique considerations.

8:44 Kristen Harrison, PhD

Kristen Harrison, PhD, Richard Cole Eminent Professor of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, addresses the use of media for sensory regulation in neurodiverse children and the potential benefits for youth with sensory challenges. Harrison shares the results of her research which examines parent-child media-related conflict by exploring relationships between sensory regulation preferences, sharing specific examples of parent experiences. She concludes with recommendations for parents looking to reduce conflict.

20:13 LaChan Hannon, PhD

LaChan Hannon, PhD, Director of Teacher Preparation and Innovation in the Department of Urban Education at Rutgers University Newark and Co-founder of the Greater Expectations Teaching and Advocacy Center Inc., addresses what parents and educators need to know about the experiences of Black neurodivergent youth. Grounded in the lived experience of her son, she highlights the roles of context, content, and intersecting identities in how Black autistic youth interact with and understand digital media.

33:17 Abigail Phillips, MLIS, SLIS, PhD

Abigail Phillips, MLIS, SLIS, PhD, Assistant Professor of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, discusses cyberbullying and how to support neurodivergent youth. She explores differences and similarities between in-person bullying and cyberbullying and shares key terms commonly used by youth to help identify when cyberbullying is happening. She stresses the importance of teaching digital literacy and digital citizenship at an early age to combat cyberbullying.

45:15 Annuska Zolyomi, PhD

Annuska Zolyomi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Computing and Software Systems at the University of Washington Bothell, provides an overview of nine design characteristics that can help technology be more supportive of neurodivergent youth and how parents, families, and educators can use these characteristics to identify helpful tech. She reviews these characteristics through specific examples in both Minecraft and Twitter, and concludes with a review of the benefits of neurodiverse-affirming technologies.

57:34 Panel Q&A

Alper brings the panel together to answer questions from the live audience. Panelists discuss how schools and teachers can support neurodiverse students with increasing use of screens in schools, how parents can negotiate rules and expectations for individual children based on their unique needs, and the importance of broader protections at both platform and policy levels. The panel also shared their insights on how to prepare for challenges they may face in an online environment, and support them in the development of self-regulation and critical thinking skills to ensure safe and healthy experiences online.

[Kris Perry]: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first #AsktheExperts webinar of 2024: Nurturing the Neurodivergent: Unique Considerations for Youth Screen Use. I am Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. I am so excited that we’re able to kick off the New Year by turning our attention to the topic of neurodiversity by focusing on the specific needs of a youth population and their families that often go overlooked. We are thrilled by the response we’ve received to this webinar, and we’re honored to be able to bring this resource to you and to hear directly from an outstanding panel of expert researchers, technologists, and parents. Now, let’s jump in and meet today’s moderator, Dr. Meryl Alper. Dr. Alper is an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, where she researches the social and cultural implications of children and families’ tech use. She is the author of a number of books, including Digital Youth with Disabilities, the award winning Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality, and her latest book, Kids Across the Spectrums Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age. We are so excited to have Meryl here to lead this conversation today with nearly 20 years of professional experience in the children’s media industry, as a researcher, strategist and consultant with organizations such as Sesame Street, PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, and Disney. Welcome, Meryl.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Thank you so much for that warm welcome, Kris, and I’m so excited to be in conversation with everyone today and to hear from everybody in the audience about their questions and concerns and ideas on this topic. At Northeastern, in my work, I do have this particular focus on young people with disabilities and how, and their families, and how they navigate a technologized world that largely isn’t built for their needs. My most recent book, as Kris mentioned, on this topic, is Kids Across the Spectrums: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age and it’s actually available, it was published last fall by MIT Press, and it’s actually freely available in an open access digital version online if you go to this link here: bit.ly/kidsacrossthespectrums. As Kris mentioned, my professional background before becoming a professor has been in designing and developing inclusive and accessible learning experiences through media. My entry into studying neurodivergent youth and their digital media use was in large part driven by a gap that I saw in how studies of, and efforts towards, addressing inequality in children’s engagement with technology tended to leave disability out as a major factor. Though it’s also critical to note that race, ethnicity, class, gender all play a role in how disability is experienced across society, including for kids in education and in health care. I’m really excited by how each of our panelists today does important research and community work in filling that knowledge gap. Before we dive into their thoughts, though, I’d like to set the stage by providing a very brief overview of three relevant topic areas. The first is how we might think about the concept of neurodivergence as one that’s helpful for understanding differences in children’s technology use. The second is general trends in neurodivergent young people’s tech use, and second is general considerations that we might think about when we’re talking about any kind of advice or parenting approaches around media that is unique for this population. First, neurodiversity is a term that was coined by autistic sociologist Judy Singer in 1998 that essentially means that neurological differences are authentic forms of human diversity, not a deficit. The concept provides individuals with similar neurological differences, with an identity to coalesce around, which is really important considering the bias, discrimination, and exclusion that they may face. At the same time, those differences can require very specific forms of support, be they social, emotional, or medical for individuals to live their best lives. To be neurodivergent is to have a brain that functions in ways that significantly diverge from dominant societal standards and to be neurotypical, which I myself do identify as is, to have one that conforms to those societal standards. This means then, that who is neurodivergent or neurotypical is heavily shaped by context, interactions, and situations. Neurodiversity is not specific to autism, though sometimes people use them interchangeably, but it also encompasses other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as ADHD and dyslexia. Sometimes people may be neurodivergent in multiple ways, such as being on the autism spectrum, and having ADHD, and families may include adults and children with the same or different neurocognitive conditions. How neurodivergent children and adolescents and teens engage with technology is both alike and unalike media use among neurotypical kids, in several respects. Boys on the autism spectrum and with ADHD report, for example, that video gaming is the media activity that they too engage in most frequently with friends, and that display largely strengthens their friendships. Like non-autistic girls, girls on the spectrum similarly acknowledge that while online friends are easier to make, such friendships have risks and limitations, and in-person socializing can lead to more authentic connections. However, now there are significant differences. For example, autistic adolescents reportedly use social media more for entertainment than friendship building. Neurodivergent children are also at increased risk for bullying and cyberbullying compared to neurotypical youth. This victimization and its emotional burdens further compounds their difficulties with mental health. Neurodivergent girls, for example, report high rates of social anxiety, which then spills over into the online world. In their everyday lives, neurodivergent kids may encounter a number of challenges that impact when, where, why, and in what manner they use media. So in terms of social communication and interaction, for autistic children, this can include back and forth conversation, understanding the emotional intention, and non-verbal communication of others, and expressing themselves with language. Behaviorally, neurodivergent children may have difficulties with planning and executive functioning, handling changes to routines and transitions between activities, and with sensory input sensitivities. Socially, they may experience social exclusion in their schools and neighborhoods, but life isn’t always a struggle. And there are strengths and pleasures that neurodivergent children may uniquely experience too that also shapes their motivations for using media and technology. For example, some autistic kids learn to read at an early age or what’s known as hyperlexia. Cognitively, strengths of neurodivergent children can include visual pattern recognition, attention to detail, rote memory, and alternative problem solving. Some have a keen sense of humor when it comes to jokes that defy logic and expected setups. Others are very honest and tell it like it is, and also have a strong sense of justice and fairness. Now, I actually think that’s a perfect lead-in to the introduction to our first speaker. Dr. Kristen Harrison is the Richard Cole eminent professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She studies children and media in a family context, recently focused on children’s use of media devices and content for sensory regulation, and how this use is connected with parent-child conflict around the child’s media use. Dr. Harrison is also the autistic parent of autistic children and serves on the board of the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Welcome, Dr. Harrison.


[Dr. Kristen Harrison]: Thank you, Meryl, so much for that introduction. My comments at the beginning essentially repeat what you said so I won’t go into too much detail. Again, I am a professor and researcher in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in adulthood, and I’m the parent of teenagers with ASD diagnoses, one of whom will have lifetime support needs. I’m also a member of the Board of the Autism Alliance of Michigan, where I used to live and work before I moved to North Carolina in 2023. So I direct the FaM lab or Family and Media lab here at the University of North Carolina. One of our recent projects concerned typically developing and neurodivergent kids’ use of media for sensory regulation and its connection with parental conflict with the child over the child’s media use, so that’s what I’m going to focus on today. In my lab, my students and I define media sensory curation as, in this academic way, selective use and arrangement of media devices, content settings, peripherals, and environments to maintain sensory regulation through visual, auditory, and tactile sensory inputs. In less technical terms, you can think of high sensory curation as the media equivalent of picky eating. High sensory curators are very, very particular about their media arrangements. Now, the ideas behind, or the idea behind sensory curation is that media can reduce the discomfort of dysregulating environments, those that are too intense or conversely, boring. Remember that adults decide where children eat, sleep, learn, and play. The ability to use media devices as tools to manage sensory input should be especially appealing to people for whom the built environment was not normed, like kids, who’s neurodivergent involves sensory challenges. Let me give you a visual example of sensory curation. Here we have a photo of Katz’s Delicatessen in New York. Those of a certain age are going to know it is the location of a certain famous scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. Imagine being a sensitive kid in this environment: the clashing sounds, the visual clutter, the smells of different foods, the experience of being jostled in a crowded room. Now imagine that you can replace at least some of that unsettling sensory input with something more settling and predictable. Behold the beautifully regular motion paths and soothing music of Minecraft, blocking out most of the noise and visual chaos. It’s tempting to judge kids and their parents when the kids use media in public, but maybe this portable sensory modification tool, the little screen device, is actually the thing that’s enabling them to survive the meal with their family in an environment that was not comfortable or is not comfortable for them. When we started studying this, my students and I didn’t have any way to measure kids and adults’ use of media to support sensory regulation, so we created measures, and we gave questionnaires, or two separate surveys of about a thousand people each, so over 2000 people total. Parents, specifically, asking them about their children’s media, sensory curation preferences and habits, and then their own. We suspected that sensory curation would be linked to family media conflict, since what is regulating for one person may be dysregulating for another. Again, think of picky eating. Two people may be picky, but odds are very slim that they’re picky in exactly the same way. This occupational therapy meme sums it up nicely. “Billy, listen. I’m tactile seeking and you’re tactile defensive. Either we go see an occupational therapist or this relationship is over.” For our research, we measured the frequency of conflict over child media use for five devices: TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, and gaming console. Then we placed parent-child pairs into four groups, according to how they scored on our sensory curation measures. Both low, the green bar, means that neither parent nor child is particular about their media arrangements. Both high, the pink bar, means they both are, and then the purple and blue bars represent the middle: parent/high child/low, parent/low child/high. Let’s see what it looks like. The green line on the line graph represents conflict happening about once a month. The pink line represents conflict happening once a week. So children who are high sensory curators are experiencing conflict up to four times as frequently as children who are low sensory curators. This is especially important for neurodivergent families because high sensory curation is significantly more common among neurodivergent kids than typically developing kids. In our sample, the neurodivergent kids were mostly those with autism and ADHD diagnoses, and about 40% of those kids were high sensory curators. Now, we also asked parents to describe the media conflict they experienced with their kids. Most parents in both samples described mild or moderate conflict and felt they could manage it. However, some parents described conflict that involved a child who seemed out of control, especially when their screens were taken away. Here’s an example. “The most difficult thing is to limit the tablet time. It seems to be a life source for my child, and when he’s denied it, it becomes a serious battle. It ends up being a fight for the rest of the day and no one wins,” or this one. “I will attempt to gently encourage him to move on to another activity which seems to anger him. Sometimes this will escalate to the point of throwing the phone/controller/device or even breaking the television. His emotional outburst seems dramatically out of proportion to the situation from my perspective but he claims it is out of his control and he has returned to a reasonable state.” These narratives compel us to reconsider our “time’s up” approach to screen limits. I ask you as parents to imagine: What if you needed to lose weight for health reasons? How would you feel if your spouse, quote unquote, helped you by saying “Time’s up” and snatching your plate away while you were still eating? That’s how these kids feel when a parent yanks them back into a dysregulating environment before they’re ready. Now, both of those quotes came from parents whose kids were high sensory curators. Parents of low sensory curators had slightly different stories. For example, “We do not have any conflict. I am the parent. My children have been raised to follow the rules and listen. There are too many children being allowed to do as they wish, including on TV, screen media, etc. The answer is simple, do not allow them to use it if it is not what you want. Tell them no or take the item and shut it off. You are the parent. They are the child. Teach your child your rules.” I have three teenagers, so believe me, I know how tempting it is to take the credit for an easy going kid. What are the takeaways here? First, neurodivergent kids use media for sensory regulation. They use media for all the other regular reasons too: informational gratification, emotional gratification, relational gratification, but adding sensory regulation to that mix makes it a very, very difficult endeavor to reduce screen time if the child doesn’t have any other sensory supports. In addition, parents also use media for sensory regulation. We are not neutral here. It makes no sense to pathologize our children when we have our own sensory quirks. This is not a child issue. This is a relational issue. To reduce conflict, we need to talk with our kids as individuals because each of them lives in a different body about what kinds of places make them feel safe, comfortable, and settled and work with them to construct or design alternatives at home or in nature, so they have non-screen options when they feel dysregulated. This doesn’t mean that they’re always going to choose those options, but they need to have them available so screens are not the only way they can bring their bodies back to a state of regulated calm. I will end with that today. Thank you.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Thank you so much, Kris. I appreciate and I think I speak for a lot of us in the audience, how you contextualize that it’s not just about the child. We talk about children’s media use, but children exist in families, and those families also use media and that kids don’t really have many choices in their daily lives, and media is one of those things, especially with this proliferation of personal devices or easy to use remotes, that it is an easy to access choice. This if it goes into then one of the questions that came from the audience about how do we teach kids to engage in that form of, you know, while screens can be this very valid way of auto-regulating one’s senses, how do you teach kids that maybe the screen isn’t always the best way to be doing that? How do you practice? How do you get kids to kind of work on some of those other habits that aren’t those screen-based ways to regulate their senses? 


[Dr. Kristen Harrison]: I think that we- The options are going to differ a lot depending on where you live, what kind of income you have. I understand there are real differences in privilege, right? So if you have ten acres, right, you can send your child out to just investigate nature and they’re going to find something that excites them or calms them, whatever, but not everybody has that option. I think what you want to do is, you know, so often we take the approach of limiting, right? Now think of how that works when you want to adjust your diet, every adolescent I have spoken to about screen time, they all say “I would like to use screens less, but I don’t know what else to do,” and “I would like to eat less junk food, too,” but if I only focus on “don’t eat this” and I don’t focus on, well, “what can I go to instead?” It just feels like deprivation. I think what families can do is take stock of the options in your home and out around your home, activities that involve the body in some way that engages it, provides a space of comfort. It could be an exciting, you know, an exciting pursuit like sports. It could be calming. It could be a place somewhere in nature, like a hammock. If you have space outside, you know, to put a hammock or just even like a little seat in a quiet area, but something you do with the child. You can ask the child, you know, “how do you feel? How does this make you feel?” When you find a place that is kind of special to them, then that stays with them as a place that they’re going to choose to go. It’s so much easier, you know, when you can say, “let’s go do that thing you really like,” then no more of this other thing that you really like without giving them some alternative.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Great. Thank you so much, Kris. All really helpful, very practical advice. We’re now going to turn to our next panel participant. Dr. LaChan Hannon is director of Teacher Preparation and Innovation and Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban Education at Rutgers University, Newark, not Newark. Even though I’m from New York, I’ve always said Newark. Her scholarly work focuses on the intersectionality of race, disability, and parent engagement as they relate to the development of school leaders and educators. Dr. Hannon is the president elect of the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the co-founder and executive director of Greater Expectations Teaching and Advocacy Center, which supports professionals and families with children with disabilities through education, counseling, and advocacy. Welcome, Dr. Hannon.


[Dr. Lachan Hannon]: Thank you for having me, Meryl. That’s a great introduction. Today I was asked to talk about- again, my name is LaChan Hannon, and today I was asked to talk to you all about what parents, caregivers, and educators should know about black autistic youth and/or neurodivergent youth’s experience with digital media. In order to do that, let’s talk about it a little bit. Context matters. Who I am to this conversation is very- how you answer this question depends on which part of me you’re asking, right? Are you asking me as an educator? Are you asking me as a parent of a 19 year old autistic young man? Are you asking me as an advocate or asking me as a researcher? I spent 15 years in high school English classrooms working with all types of students, neurodivergent, autistic, general education, special education, and I’ve seen a lot of students over my 15 years. I could probably rattle off what worked in my classroom, but I think it’s more important- it was more important for me when Meryl posed this question to me, for me to put on my researcher hat and ask my black autistic son, and so that’s exactly what I did. I said, “What do you want parents and caregivers and educators to know about how you experience digital media?” Imagine me following a 19 year old around the shopping cart in a mall with my phone up to his mouth as he’s talking to me and like Christmas shopping, so that’s what that experience looked like. He was able to very clearly communicate for me three things. One, he wanted me to know that he views and interprets content very uniquely and that to ask him to explain why it’s different is like asking anybody else to explain why something they have is different is different than somebody else, even though that’s not their experience. He wanted me to communicate that not only does he experience that content uniquely, or he views that content uniquely, that content impacts him differently, right? So how he internalizes it, that’s important. That impact can, in fact, impact his mental health and other black students’ mental health. The first thing he talked about in viewing and interpreting content uniquely, he reminded me that his brain doesn’t tell him that he’s Black. His brain reminds him that he’s autistic, right? The eyes that he sees, how he experiences and senses the world is through, first, an autistic lens. That inherently comes with a different way of seeing, interpreting, believing, understanding. He wanted me to make sure that I communicated with you all that please appreciate the fact that your normals are different. Your normals are inherently different because he’s autistic and because I identify as neurotypical. Secondly, he reminded me that his realities are that of a Black man and that that is different than anyone else’s experience. That being a Black man is not like being a white man, not like being a Black woman, not like being anything else, but being a Black man in those set of realities are also part of how he sees and deals with content. What content is coming at him. And then on top of that, there are gendered expectations that he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to because he makes his own rules, because he has his own imagination and because he creates his own life that are just almost another way of restricting him and impacting how he views and interprets that content. When he says that how he views that content can impact him differently, he was specifically talking about how what he consumes, whether that be, he’s not a big gamer, how what he consumes either via television or via social media that he does not see himself. That representation is so important because in what we might call his hyper-focusing on watching movies over and over, watching TV shows over and over, being on social media over and over is actually a form of him searching for a familiar narrative. It’s him trying to find himself in what he sees, in what he’s consumed, and what he’s learning is acceptable and unacceptable, and what he’s learning is right or wrong and right for whom. Those considerations for that or we have to be as a teacher, as a parent, as an educator, we have to be considerate of what we’re presenting and what’s being consumed by Black autistic youth, especially if it’s not in consideration of Black experiences. So why an autistic perspective maybe have some more similarities once we layer on top race and how that gets experienced and how that is seen and portrayed on TV, on social media, on the news, in video games, right? All of those things are being internalized. That is how that impacts him differently. Those things are being internalized and it’s being internalized because he’s being given limited content, because he still does not search, he still does not have a familiar narrative. This idea of “you can’t be what you can’t see” is even more important when we’re talking about Black autistic youth, because we’ve rarely see neurodivergent people on television. We rarely see Black neurodivergent people on television, and we certainly don’t see Black male neurodivergent people on television or consuming. What is he consuming and how is that conflicting with how he sees himself, right? We have to be really thoughtful about that. We have never really limited screen time for him. What we did was we set rules and expectations. “This is the time for this. This is the time for this. We’re going to stop now.” He became accustomed to the routine of when we watch TV, when we engage, when we’re on our tablet, and for what purposes. There’s one thing- actually I want to go back to here and talk about the importance of representation and just the layered identities of being Black, autistic, Black and autistic. You may or may not have seen a news report a couple of years ago of a Latino autistic man who had left his residential facility. There was a Black worker who was in charge of him. There was a whole controversy with police and intervention. The Black man was telling the police “He’s autistic. He’s not harming anyone. He’s okay.” And eventually the police end up shooting the Black, the Black orderly. My son, who was a teenager at that time, was watching this and was trying to figure out where is the familiar narrative in the story? Who am I to how people are being portrayed? Am I the Black man or am I the autistic youth? This idea of how that intersects is extremely important when we’re talking about how he sees himself and how he makes sense of his possibilities, what he can become, and what he can do. Some recommendations and considerations that we have for caregivers, advocates, parents, and educators. The idea of creating versus imposing realities. My son is a dreamer. He is an actor. He embraces television and musicals, and we have never once I can’t say never once, never say never, right? We have done our best to not stifle his creativity, to not stifle his imagination, recognizing that the world does not show Black autistic young men or Black autistic men in general and their narratives. We always encourage him to create whatever that reality was for him. It became about opening up the possibilities versus limiting the possibilities of what someone could be, could become based on whatever content is being shared. With that, I just want to say embrace Black, autistic joy, believe autistic truths and colorblindness is harmful, is harmful. Thank you.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Thank you so much, LaChan, for sharing truly your wisdom with us. Also just sort of note the names of the Black support aid is Charles Kinsey and the unarmed also autistic Latino boy, young adult who was also sort of involved in that was Arnaldo Soto. It’s really important to say their names and think about the impact that they continue to have on, you know, on everyday lives in this discourse. It’s really important to acknowledge. I’m going to keep our question like a very- we will have more time to discuss later on, but just kind of a thought about- I realize this isn’t one of the questions, but I’m going to ask, this is changes that you may have seen relative to how you’ve managed your child’s, you know, your son’s media use now that he’s 19, you know, you’ve seen a lot of change over these years. Is there one big change you’ve seen, how would you say, like for the better in his sort of management or self-reflection of how he spends his time with media?


[Dr. LaChan Hannon]: I think that because he grew up with social media and all that- one, we monitored it and we really did not give them access till he was almost 15 years old, so there’s that. He does- that was something that was just a rule. Now we make sure that we ask questions, right? “What are you looking at?” And not for the purposes of surveillance, but for the purposes of asking him like, “do you see yourself? What are you learning right? What is what is interesting about that to you?” We’re actually trying to get to know him better by what he is viewing. Because we’ve asked those questions over the years and we’ve tried to help him, you know, ask these questions of yourself, “why am I watching this? Why is this so interesting? What am I looking for?” Helps him to then kind of self-regulate and say, “that is not the reason. That’s not a good enough reason,” and that helps with that self-regulation- that has helped us with helping him.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I’m going to keep the ball rolling here. Moving on with our next speaker, who’s also an educator as well. Dr. Abigail Phillips is an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.She earned her Ph.D. in information studies from the School of Information at Florida State University in 2016, and before entering academia, Dr. Phillips served as a librarian in a small, rural public library system in Southwest Georgia. Welcome, Dr. Phillips.


[Dr. Abigail Phillips]: Thank you so much. I’m always astonished people dig up information, but I think it’s on my website, so of course, that’s where it’ll come from. I’m going to talk about supporting neurodivergent youth and digital media engagement with a focus on cyberbullying, which is called many- a number of different things, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. My name is Dr. Abigail Leigh Phillips. I’m still on Twitter, but also Blue Sky, where I talk- a lot of my research is about neurodivergence with teens, emerging adults, and also adults. I talk a lot about myself as a neurodivergent. I have- I was diagnosed with ADHD, but I have a number of other neurodivergent diagnoses. I’m an assistant- I think- sorry, I just like to make clear as a researcher and as an instructor that, that’s part of who I am. I’m an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Hello from Gloaming Milwaukee. Just a little background in case, just the traditional bullying versus cyberbullying. We may all be super familiar with this, but they often- they do intersect as well. Traditional bullying is what you imagine, like being kids being bullied out on the playground. There’s a power imbalance between the bully and the victim. The behavior is repeated over time. The intention is to cause harm that can’t be perpetuated by an individual or group, a face to face interaction, and largely confined to a school and school day and at times in communities, smaller neighborhoods. That was cyberbullying. It’s very similar, but it can remain anonymous. A lot of the research has demonstrated and a lot of the teens that I’ve talked to, they kind of have an idea of who’s cyberbullying them (vague).  It’s kind of anonymous, pseudo and anonymity. The behavior is repeated over time. Intention is to cause harm as well. Perpetrated by groups and individuals that in a group part is quite extensive on social media, such as Instagram, and it can occur through electronic device or online anywhere, anytime. That’s what makes it so destructive because you don’t have the safety, like maybe going home or being away from it for a little while with something going somewhere else. Defining cyberbullying. cyberbullying has a number of names: online violence, online bullying, online harassment, electronic bullying. Cyberbullying is the more commonly used term, but within the research, it goes all over the place, depending what you use. There’s a number of different definitions because in research we love creating new definitions. Cyberbullying is any behavior- this is what I particularly like. I think it’s just really inclusive of what cyberbullying is. Any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others, which goes back to the previous slide. Language is really important when we’re talking about cyberbullying, because that’s not and really not what teens call it. My research is between 12 and 18 year olds and also emerging adults, so 19 to 25ish age. Often they don’t- sometimes they don’t even know they’re being bullied. When I started my dissertation writing about cyberbullying and bullying, the more I read, the more I realized, “hey, from first grade until I graduated high school, I was bullied by this one particular girl.” It was mind blowing just because you just don’t think- because kids are calling it- our teens “drama,” “not a big deal,” “they’re just teasing” or “it’s just a bad day” or it’s just a combination of gossip, bullying, aggression. It’s a very gendered process that perpetuates gender norms. There’s really relational aggression, which is more common among girls. I’m going to talk about a little bit later that when compared to bullying among boys, which tends to be more physical, but this has been slowly changing as we’ve gone online. They use these different different terms, like “drama” or “we’re just teasing” as a way to save face, which we can understand as going back to your own teenage years or even younger. You don’t want to be a victim. It’s just everyday behavior. It’s not a big deal trying to normalize it as much as possible. Adult language, bullying, or cyber bullying and, the teen language of drama, and again, none of this is new. It just changed with online networks on Instagram and TikTok, Reddit, online video games. Again, (I already skipped ahead) to children and teens may not know they are being bullied until my awakening at age 27 during my research. But with neurodivergent children and youth or teens in this case, they may, in particular because of the way they communicate with themselves or communicate to themselves and with others, may be extra vulnerable to being cyberbullied or this isn’t discussed much. Well, it’s discussed in the research, but not in more popular media. They can also be the cyberbullies, it’s very common. Being a bully victim, playing both of those things without really knowing you’re being a bully because you have that disinhibition effect that goes on since you don’t see the person in front of you or have those- some of the clues, and especially as a neurodivergent youth, you may not even, if you are face to face, may not pick some clues that you’re hurting somebody, that you’re causing them to feel bad or feel ashamed or feel a number of things. See, almost done. I think a big takeaway for a digital literacy- I come, it does it come from a librarian background. Digital literacy is really a big key in combating cyberbullying and digital citizenship, and I’ve heard from a number of librarians and school librarians and teachers that digital citizenship really should start immediately. We should start educating youth about ethical, responsible, and positive online behaviors and to be responsible users and creators of online content. Yes, and I  was going to mention Meryl’s book because I thought I think it’s a great book that talks about a little bit beyond and into the social and health inequalities. From my specific perspective, what’s the social model of disability, how the world is it isn’t built for people. The neurodiverse, it’s not even thought of. Academia and my slot, my references. Thank you. I usually present in front of librarians or library professionals or Elia scholars. I’ve been told it’s unprofessional outside of the library community, but this was my cat while I was proofreading my slides this morning, just give them encouragement.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]

Great. Thank you so much, Abigail. My immediate question is thinking about those- and I say this as somebody who tried to write a great proposal around this to wrap my own head around it, is digital citizenship and what specific- we can think about how all kids really would benefit from it, but what specific ways like safer educators or librarians. In what ways would you want to cater that or specialize that in a way that would be extra specific or extra helpful for neurodivergent youth? Is it all just that the same education, the same way of going about it would be beneficial?


[Dr. Abigail Phillips] What I’ve heard from the librarians, and particularly school librarians, they see (digital citizenship) very broadly, very much the basics and not diving into difference between neurodivergent youth or children versus neurotypical. As times have changed since the pandemic happened and more children and adult and young adults are becoming diagnosed. My hope is that there’s going to be more focus on having more targeted digital citizenship scholarship that targets the niche areas of how to support neurodiverse youth. To a certain extent, I think broadly it would be really helpful. There’s still a gap in the literature (researcher thing). There’s a gap in the literature regarding, especially socially digital citizenship for neurodivergent students, but also neurodivergent youth and children as well. Sorry, that was a long awaited question. There’s still work.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah, well I’ll have to follow up with you, so we can get to doing that work. I’m going to continue on now with our last speaker, but definitely at the end of our discussion. Dr. Annuska Zolyomi is an assistant professor in Computing and Software Systems at the University of Washington Bothell. Her scholarship focuses on improving access of disabled and neurodivergent people to socio-technical spaces, which is sort of a fancy word for how we use technology to be with one another, and also how that technology shapes how we think about what it means to belong. Her work is informed by her previous career at Microsoft as an accessibility product strategist for Microsoft. Please welcome, Dr. Zolyomi.


[Dr. Annuska Zolyomi]: Thank you so much for that introduction and for inviting me today. I am an assistant professor and I work on studying how people use technology and interact with technology in their daily lives. I focus a lot on neurodivergent users and people, and here’s a collection of comfort objects that autistic young adults brought to my interviews to talk about how they incorporate media and hobbies in their daily lives. I like to talk, through interviews or my research, getting a peek into how people incorporate technology and so that I can then in turn design technology and offer guidelines for designing technology that are neurodiverse affirming. Today in this panel talk, I’m going to focus on how we can think about what are supportive and helpful technologies for neurodivergent individuals., and thinking about this audience today are parents, families, educators, neurodivergent people themselves, what are some qualities of technology that are supportive and on the converse side, not supportive or potentially harmful? Then I’ll end with talking about some examples of design characteristics and my research of specific technology that I’ve researched and give you some examples of that. As I was thinking about this question about what makes technology supportive and helpful to neurodivergent children and youth, I collected a list. I have two slides here about what I have found in my research and other researchers in the human computer interaction field of what has been helpful and the things that are important are someone’s values. If people value play as we should play and fun, that that is something that’s, and the technology helps the person engage in that, then that is aligned with their value, or if you’d value- I did a research study on teamwork and people valued predictability and accountability with their other team members. That was a value that they felt it was important during teamwork, and so then that technology should also support accountability and predictability. Identity is- Technology that is affirming of neurodivergent identities and allows people to express themselves in ways that are they don’t have to mask who they are and they can see a tree reflection of themselves through their use of technology embodied means that it’s respectful of our sensory needs, and we can have a fully embodied experience and be kind of in our bodies as we’re experience in this technology. That’s another quality that I think is important to look for, especially when we think about neurodivergence, social emotional learning, and awareness, and connections with other people is important. Also agency that people have their voice is heard or their written word is heard, whatever modality that they use so that they can speak about their personal lived experiences and their needs are met. Those are some core qualities of technology. Then the last set that I have are sort of broadening it out, not just to what somebody themselves is experiencing when they’re using technology, but how are they using it in communication and collaboration and community with other people. A lot of the technology is, right now, we’re so connected to social media and online platforms for education. A lot of things are online. All of these aspects about how do we make social collaboration comfortable for people who are neurodivergent. The last piece that I have here is celebratory technology, and I want to give credit to LouAnne Boyd, who is a professor at UC Irvine. She has been coined, coined this term in terms of reducing technology, reducing stigma through technology. What are ways that we can kind of flip the script and through technology, celebrate the strengths and skills of autistic people and use that to reduce social stigma? Given that kind of set of qualities, I want to talk about three examples of how I would apply that type of framework to thinking about specific technology. So the first one is Minecraft, probably very familiar to those of us on the call here, and I did some research with a therapy clinic that a neurodivergent- they provide services for people who are neurodivergent and they use Minecraft in their clinical approach. They host a Minecraft server for people who- youth and young adults who are in their services. Through a focus group, we found that there- it wasn’t just the kids sitting down and playing, right? They’re talking with their parent or other siblings or friends as they’re playing in real life. They’re dressing up and making costumes and engaging in play. A parent said, “My kids have a lot of Minecraft figures and swords and costumes. My older child is not a kid who does a lot of imaginative play, but will actually play real life imaginary Minecraft with his younger sibling, which is very sweet.” You can see that it’s not an isolated activity. By engaging with other people, his imagination is expanding. As they were hosting this server, so they were moderating the services so that as they were encouraging communication and sharing each other’s builds with each other and being the moderator, you can see his avatar on the lower left hand side. He was a clinician, and he was able to then help with conflicts that might come up as people were in their Minecraft server together. Then thinking about this framework of the qualities I talked about earlier. Here’s my list on the left side of those qualities and on the right you have Minecraft, you have “Autcraft,” which is a Minecraft server that’s for autistic neurodivergent people. Then you have Minecraft play in real life, right? Then I filled out this table. I won’t go into every cell here, but it gives you an idea of how we can start to assess the experience of playing Minecraft in those different settings and what sorts of values, you know, how does it fare in terms of those different attributes? I’ll just bring up one example like embodiment. You do have this physicality in the virtual world even though it’s virtual, there’s still this sense of you are the avatar, you’re building things, it’s connected to farm animals and all sorts of real life objects that are in the real world. It helps make those connections. I think that’s a nice kind of view of how helpful this type of technology can be for neurodivergent people. Another example is looking at Twitter. I did some research looking at Twitter and how people use different hashtags to have conversations around Twitter and autism, and it was actually a very affirming place for people who are neurodivergent to share personal anecdotes, akes sense about being autistic, and advocating for each other. Again, using the framework, then you could start to call out different aspects of Twitter that can be self affirming, but also could potentially be misunderstood, like communication is notoriously difficult over social media. I will just go kind of to the end. Cverall, I really believe that we need to scaffold the social group as a whole so that it’s not just the neurodivergent person who needs to change or needs to use special technology, that these technologies should be personal enough that people can adjust to how technology works, to work best for them, and that we really value the role of neurodivergent individuals as empowered learners and distributors of knowledge for other people. Thank you very much.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Thank you, Annuska. I feel like as somebody who you’ve probably spent a lot of time, you know, not just kind of designing apps, but also then like or technologies, but also critically looking at ones that exist. Are there any, I would say both, I guess you can- you can choose different directions to go with this- particular apps or websites or even like features of technologies that you think that already exist, that are actually really helpful in potentially not so obvious ways, as like in assistive technology, but, you know, technologies that it turns out they were actually designed in ways that might be actually really helpful for neurodivergent kids? I’m thinking of- in my research there was an app Amino, which is like a fandoms like kind of art community and there’s, you know, couple of kids- who it can be really great but also stressful because you’re managing potentially like other fandoms. Any just sort of features or apps for parents to kind of take away with and say like, “maybe I’ll try that with my kid,” or “maybe I like make sure I turn that setting on or check that setting out?”


[Dr. Annuska Zolyomi]: Yeah, that’s a great question. Sites- I think community engage- community platforms where people can connect with each other, Discord servers, there’s Discord servers that are run by autistic people and are really community builders. I think it’s a multimedia experience where you have avatars, you can have visuals, you can have a voice call, you can have a call with your camera on or off, and you can customize it and have personality in your communication. What I found in my research is that folks on the spectrum really enjoy expressing themselves and being unique. Places, I think communities online, where you can share that is really important. Also not always having to have like your video on so that you don’t feel like you have to perform social interactions in a particular way all of the time.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah, especially when you think about that how when it came to Zoom school, the ways in which just the neat- the having the screen on is being present is a different kind of potential, cognitive load for neurodivergent people than just physically just being there in person. Not having to deal with also managing your own presence on a screen and whatnot. We’ll just sort of bring us all back for some questions that I’ve got leftover or came up as part of all of this conversation. The first question directed- somewhat directly- to LaChan, but everybody here is an educator too, so I think that’s something to think about. Thinking about the school environment, how it’s not just- we’ve talked a lot about home and recreational uses of media and technology and not as much maybe about like educational uses, thinking about all the ways that kids these days increasingly have to manage their technology use for school at home or devices in school, be it phones or laptops, and any kind of particular considerations. For either educators or the students in their classroom or for parents supporting their child, for those school based uses or the school context for that technology use, that might be particularly specific for the neurodivergent population. 


[Dr. LaChan Hannon]: Sure. I think that one of the first things that we can do as classroom teachers is to make sure we ask questions and not make assumptions about students’ preferences. You might assume that a student would prefer to type something out, or prefer to use any piece of technology, because in your neurotypical mind you might think that would make things easier. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I would say “ask.” My son, love him to death, still has the handwriting of a third grader. It’s never going to get better. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to get better. It’s perfect. He would still choose to use a pencil or pen to write his essay than to sit and do it on a typewriter or not typewriter, but on a computer. That’s his brain even though it’s written in his IEP, that he’s allowed to use a computer, he doesn’t want to. That should be okay, because his handwriting and you having to fiddle through it is more about you than it is about him. Making sure that whatever technology we’re introducing, we have the child sign on to use. Otherwise it’s just another oppressive tool. Be flexible to whatever demonstration of learning looks like. It’s another form of accommodation. It’s another form of differentiation that just because it’s available doesn’t mean it has to be used. What other ways can this information and content be absorbed that is more preferential to the student?


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Anybody else want to weigh in?


[Dr. Abigail Phillips]: I’ll add something in just because I recently did a presentation on inclusive instruction for neurodivergent students. Again, this is targeting more undergrad students, but I think a lot of it applies. I actually reached out to my students and asked them what- they didn’t have to reveal if they were neurodivergent or anything, but what they would like to see in the classroom, particularly like online courses and even in-person. A lot of it was closed captioning was super important to them, having teachers that provided that, having information in advance like syllabi or some of the assignments in advance, and just having a very simple checklist. “This assignment is due this day.” It blew my mind. Even as a neurodivergent who lives by a checklist I was like “why did I not think about this a long ago?” It was such a hit. I had so many students possibly respond just a very simple I’ve done this and carry on. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah, checklist is the best. You can make it low tech. You can make it high tech. 


[Dr. Abigail Phillips]: Word, it’s perfect.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Useful tool. Yeah, Kris?


[Dr. Kristen Harrison]: This question just made me think of a friend I have who’s a pediatrician who told me that her son, who has dyslexia, really learns the best with audiobooks. She struggled because her entire medical education as a pediatrician revolved around counseling parents to teach their kids to read, to decode letters on a page. Finally, she just said, “this is ridiculous. He likes learning with audiobooks. I’m just going to roll with it.” I think that’s the key. When you can find out what makes sense to another person who has a different neurological system than you, and then go with that because what matters is the learning, not that they are learning on your terms only.


[Dr. Abigail Phillips]: Sorry, may I just add one more comment? Just as a librarian, there’s always this debate amongst adults when children and youth want to use audiobooks. “That’s not really reading.” It is. It is reading. It’s definitely reading, and it should be acknowledged as that. It’s just a librarian thing. Thank you. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah. Another question to think about when it comes to relationships around media and in particular parenting (in general), and parents are parenting more than one child. Every child has their unique differences, but when you’re parenting, maybe a child, one child is neurodivergent and one child isn’t. The ways in which those rules or those expectations and those comparisons and fitting on age order, make it really complicated. Advice or tips for parents who, in those context, when you might have the kind family where you would like to have the same rules for everyone, but it’s just not possible. How do you contend with that in this day and age?


[Dr. LaChan Hannon]: Yeah, I’ll take that one because that’s my situation. We have done our best to not just lay down blanket rules. We always- rules are rules for a reason. The reason why we make rules in our house is more about setting expectations than it is about doing what I tell you to do. Our house, is over the years, mind you my children are now 19 and 21, was extremely flexible. Culturally as a black woman, that’s not what/how we grew up. It was “do what I tell you to do.” Even that negotiation of that and allowing that flexibility. The only non-negotiables in my house were issues of safety. Everything else was negotiable. I know that’s a hard place to be in, but it also means relinquishing some control and trusting that my children can verbalize or not verbalize what they need and what’s best for them. That became part of our routine of talking through. “If we do everything the same, guys, and that means even though Avery likes broccoli, he’s getting 12 and now you’re getting 12 too, because everybody wants everything the same” is showing how that just doesn’t work. That just became part of our family lexicon of negotiating those rules for the individual because you’re going to get some things that he doesn’t need and he’s going to get some things that you don’t want. That’s how we still negotiated. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Any other thoughts? Yeah, Annuska.


[Dr. Annuska Zolyomi]: One thing that I think can be helpful is gameplay. Not so much about how parents are setting (it’s not a direct answer to your question), but I think helping the kids to have open communication and expressing themselves and what they’re feeling about these roles and through gameplay, there’s serious games (there’s a genre of games called series games) where you’re learning about things, and so there’s games for learning about conflict, or how to negotiate things, or how to relate to other people, how to have conversations. There’s also a genre of games called cooperative games. We used to have a game that was like going to Granny’s house and you had this board game and you had to together pick up the bread and the flowers and all the things you need to take to Granny. I felt that that was a nice way to open up conversations about cooperating with each other and that not everything has to be a competition or exactly equal or like who has the most points. It could be working together. That could just open up new kinds of conversations for our family. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah. Turn (I guess) the questions now both promoting these positive outcomes, those are preventing some negative ones as well. We can talk about how safety and protection isn’t just the individual responsibility of parents. It’s absolutely something that platforms need to do better. It’s absolutely something that policy needs to do better and that peers need to do for one another in these context. There’s a lot of potential for really bad actors to do really terrible things. How do you support your child, the emotional impact of things that they will encounter or people they will encounter that do not have their best interest in mind or actually really have harm in mind. What are the best ways to manage that fallout?


[Dr. Kristen Harrison]: This makes me think about my two children with ADHD diagnoses are 14 year old twins, a girl and a boy. When my son, I’d say was maybe about 11, he likes playing Roblox. When he was about 11, he started playing it and playing with strangers from another place or playing the game at the same time. He told me afterward, “some of these- I feel really bad about myself. Some of these people were saying really mean things to me.” And we just had- it made me feel really sad, but then we had a great conversation about the public nature of the Internet, about a certain percentage of people are going to do these things because it gives them a little surge of power. How do you feel when somebody says something and you get that gut feeling that this isn’t right or this isn’t a good thing? That’s a potent sign to you that this is somebody who is managing maybe their own stress and trauma by projecting it on to somebody, a stranger on the Internet. What do you do about it? “Oh look, you can block them.” It’s not because you did anything wrong. When we teach them, you’re going to need to expect a certain number of problematic interactions, and here is how you can protect yourself in the future. Then you don’t have to deal with that issue of, what’s wrong with them? What did they do wrong? You know, there are predatory people out there and we have to all of those conversations with them. Most of the research on online activity shows that the opportunities outweigh the risks. We have to teach them how to pay attention to that gut feeling that they’re getting in response to something. Trolling or anything that’s abusive online and then obey that gut feeling that that’s their best guide when they’re interacting with strangers.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah. Research has shown that blocking, how to block, is something that autistic kids- that’s the thing that they have a lot of trouble with. It’s not necessarily knowing, “hey, this is a bad- this is a risk,” but how to prevent that from happening again is something that can be very hard to identify. Platforms don’t make it easy. Abigail, were you going to add something to that? Yeah.


[Dr. Abigail Phillips]: Just a little bit of a positive and negative. When I’m thinking with middle schoolers and high schoolers, I would ask them. These weren’t explicitly neurodiverse, but they didn’t share that if they were neurodiverse or neurotypical, but the majority of them did not tell their parents anything. I think a lot of it depends on the relationship between the parent and the child. The teenager- I did have a few that would bring it up. Mainly they would talk to their friends about it. I think that having( not being a parent, I could not say this with a lot of confidence), but having an open, good relationship with your child is key. That’s key to a lot of things in parenting. I was just a little taken aback that instead of- they’re like “I would never tell my parent, but I tell my friend.” Maybe not, not really helpful. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah. I guess a question- I always like to turn this around. Questions you have for one another about your respective work


[Dr. Annuska Zolyomi]: I’m interested and I saw one of the questions about this, about kind of the definition of neurodiversity, and we’re talking a lot about autistic kids. Do you also include ADHD and people with learning disabilities in your definition of neurodiversity and have you found differences across those different groups of people? 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: If I can kind of add on to that, there’s also a lot of questions around executive functioning and regulation. I’m going to put air quotes around the term “addiction,” but around the centrality of a screen to a neurodivergent person’s potential- their mind and their body and on the sort of ways in which that might come together- that might meet multiple ways of being neurodivergent around planning and that kind of work. So yeah, if anybody has input, insights to share around that sort of executive functioning, self-regulation code problem. Again, air quotes are on “problematic use” because it’s very contextual. For those kids for whom that- you need to use these technologies, but hard to determine when it is that you don’t need to be with them. 


[Dr. LaChan Hannon]: I don’t know if this speaks directly to your question and you can stop me if it doesn’t, but I think knowing why you’re using a tool and knowing what you are hoping to get from that tool, I think is the first hurdle. We did not use tablets as a, or any kind of thing, as a way to keep my child occupied. My child did not have, and we put air quotes around this, “toys.” Everything was in some way, shape, or form used therapeutically. Every cartoon, every app, every video, every- you know what I mean? Until he got to the age where he was able to to do things on his own and in high school, quite honestly, because he was 15 years old, he knew why he was engaging with it and we knew why he was engaging with it,  which opened conversation for us to talk about how it was being used and what was working or what wasn’t working or what it did. It might have appeared that we just gave our kid- let our kid watch the same show over and over again, but his echolalia helped him to eventually form his sentences and be able to communicate. When he was using those phrases in appropriate ways in conversations,that was celebrated. It was just- I’m going back to intention. It’s not random. It’s not, “hey, just go play with this game” or “let me just look over your shoulder and see what you’re doing.” There has to be investment and intention on both parts and what you want to get from it and what you’re willing to risk as a result. I don’t know that- it just popped to my mind when Annuska was talking.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Are there any particular, I guess- I think parents are always looking for the setting or the tool that they- it’s a continual process where you always do have to, once they do reach that age of independent use. For example, there is, you know, there is technically a setting on TikTok that is the “For Kids,” the parent tethered account or there are Google accounts that are on YouTube, they’re the tethered accounts. Are those useful in these settings? Are those useful up to a certain point for kids in this population? Your thoughts on some of these tools that are baked in, especially again with some of these kids, as they get older that parental oversight might not be appropriate.


[Dr. Kristen Harrison]: I think some of those tools can really be helpful. I think, to echo what LaChan said, with my own kids, my daughter, who has a language processing disability. I’ve always wrung my hands over the fact that she’d rather watch screens than read from a book. She was turning on closed captioning while was watching YouTube videos and she’s watching videos about things like four dimensional cubes and space and medicine and genetics. Then she’d come back, she’d be learning to read from reading the closed captioning and then she’d come back with these great questions about science. Finally I just said- I just get gave in to it. This is partly what I’m saying about screen time. If we’re so focused on time and this is the one way that she’s learning this stuff and then I say, “look at me, I’m a great parent because I cut her screen time in half.” Well, maybe I also cut her learning in half. So like LaChan said, you got to come back to what? Why is the child using this content? What are they getting out of it? What’s happening? How do they feel and act after they walk away from the screen? Do they seem composed or do they seem more agitated? So if you’re seeing signs of agitation or some kind of problem, that’s something to investigate, but if the screens are helping them feel composed, then think of them as one tool to help with that kind of regulation and learning, but also keep encouraging some other tools and other environments so they have a choice.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah, Annuska.


[Dr. Anuska Zolyomi]: Yeah, to follow up on that, in my interviews with autistic young adults, they talked about watching YouTube videos like on repeat or a common- a show that they like to watch, and as an anxiety reducer and self-regulating emotions,self-soothing, and we can all relate to that. It’s to some extent like after a long day. There’s certain shows that I want to watch that just feel good. I think we can recontextualize what does screen time mean in those situations that it’s- they know that this is a tool. Maybe it’s a video game that they like to play with their friends that helps them to self-regulate, to then face other parts of the world. The second point I want to make is that they would show me, some of them, drawings they did of cartoon characters or anime is super popular in a lot of neurodivergent circles. Then they draw that or they dress up that way. I think tapping into what is their interest and then encouraging them in real life, how they’re expressing that that joy that they get from that cultural experience they’re having through technology. It’s a celebrated part, and there can be community and identity that they can belong. People who play Minecraft tell me their part. It’s cool to talk about Minecraft with other kids versus if you love Legos and you’re now a teenager, they maybe feel a certain way about going on and on about Legos, but Minecraft is socially acceptable. We also have to realize it’s part of their identity. In today’s world, tech is so important. I totally understand wanting to limit, not have it be an addiction, but I think maybe if we can recognize the value that they’re getting out of it, and then help encourage them to express it in other ways, through their own creation, that they’re not just consuming this media passively, but then how do they add their voice to it can be powerful.


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Great. One last question. I’m thinking about not just putting media in the hands of neurodivergent kids, but the tools for them to think critically and consciously about their role in this online world. Particular resources that youth themselves can use to learn more about digital literacy and safety. I’m thinking off the bat just of Common Sense Media as a clearinghouse of- for educators, for parents, but for kids, too. There’s lots of videos, there’s lots of sort of playlists, things that you can consume because the technology changes all the time. You have to think about, you know, it’s not just the technology. It’s also thinking about situations and contexts that might emerge time and time again. Besides any Common Sense Media or adaptations to that that you can think of for, and for different ages, because certainly it starts young. We’re all in agreement. There’s not great ones. 


[Dr. Annuska Zolyomi]: Yeah, there is not great ones that I know of, but I will say that, to try. I encourage people to try to engage their child in setting up what the rules are, what the boundaries are. I’ve seen kids that get together to play video games and they set up the tournament rules and how long everybody gets to play and that there’s some- give them the ownership over it, or Discord has a lot of different settings on it. If you set up a Discord server about different roles that people have and that gives them certain permissions to certain channels. Just my small advice is just exposing them to all of these ways that you can control your online media and including them in that. I do wish that there were more ways that they could share this with each other or resources available for them. 


[Dr. Meryl Alper]: Yeah, and I’ll add to that (probably also) more in languages besides English for parents as well, because there is- I’m thinking about autistic people come in all shades and colors and languages and backgrounds and there’s not enough parental support materials and for the kids too that help all parents help their kids equally in navigating this online space. I believe we are actually at the end of our time together. It’s time for me and we’re just about over to reintroduce Kris to wrap this up here. 


[Kris Perry]: Thank you to our fantastic panelists for sharing such a wealth of information recommendations today and a special thank you to our audience for tuning in to learn more about this important topic. If you found this webinar helpful and have found value in what you may have learned, please consider donating to support future episodes of #AsktheExperts and other resources for parents and caregivers. For example, keep an eye out for a special Tips for Parents column based on the insights shared today to be published in the coming months. These research based resources and so many more are made available entirely free to the public on our website thanks to the support of generous donors just like you. You can explore these resources at childrenandscreens.org or follow us on these platforms and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on all new events and resources. If you wish to make a donation, please click through the link in the chat or go to the childrenandscreens.org. Please join us for our next #AskTheExperts Webinar: Copycat:Social Contagion, Online Viral Behavior, and Youth at noon Eastern on Thursday, February 29th. Until then, thank you and be well.