When I was growing up, there were six channels on the television in my room. During my teen years, cable television was invented and I thought we hit the jackpot! There were no computers and no Internet.
It’s a different world today, with the Internet to surf, endless video gaming systems, and computers galore from which to choose. It’s very common for any child to be dependent on their electronics and television. It’s all they know!
For kids and young adults on the autism spectrum, electronics can be their entire world. When it disappears, their world is turned upside down.
The following questions typically come out of my son’s mouth: “How could this happen? Why is this happening? When are we getting the Internet back? When can I watch my shows?” The questions continue over and over and it makes for a VERY long day or night.
Calling our cable/Internet provider is so common to me that I have the number memorized. I never know if the problem is in our area or just my apartment, so I always report it. Yes – it is time waiting on hold and time in my life that I will never get back. However, having a child who dwells on the fact that he cannot get on the Internet or watch his favorite shows means I need answers. I can feel the anxiety in his voice, and it makes me sad.
For me, losing the Internet is a major inconvenience because I work from home; however, I can always take my laptop and work somewhere else. Not so easy for my son. In addition to autism, he also has Tourette’s syndrome. He paces constantly, and leaving his laptop on a seat in a public place while he walks away is not a good idea.
He could be gone for five minutes walking around—plenty of time for someone to steal his computer. The library computer is not an option for us because he constantly talks to himself, and the library is supposed to be a quiet place.
So what else do I suggest to him? How about reading a book? Sometimes that works. My son enjoys reading, but he likes to do it when he wants to and not because there is nothing else to do. Usually, we end up running errands just to get out of the apartment and keep his mind off the missing Internet.
Kids with autism thrive on routine, and when it is interrupted, life is very challenging. It is important for parents to have a back-up plan in the event of an outage. It may be helpful to talk to your child ahead of time and explain that the internet and cable will return, but it can take time. Have some activities prepared. Suggest them to your child ahead of time, “We should remember that for the next time the Internet goes out.”
And make a plan for yourself, for keeping your cool when your child asks for the 100th time, “When is the Internet coming back?”
Learn more about routines and their importance on this website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.