Media education for children with a disability

This article is part of Media Education

The media usage of children and teenagers with a disability or special needs has a lot in common with that of other children. But there are a few striking differences. What can we learn from research, and how do parents handle this topic?

How much screentime?

“Digital media give him a sense of security and structure. And he’s really good with them too, given his disability. They are an important tool for him, also for communication.”
Mum of a 12-year-old son with an intellectual disability (type 2) and ASS

MediaNest data (BE, 2021) indicate that children with a disability spend more time using screens than other children. 26% of them spend more than 4 hours in front of a screen on weekdays: for other children, such long hours tend to be reserved for the weekends. Parents report that there is usually a good reason for this: for example, because screens offer a sense of structure or safety. 64% of parents of children with an intellectual disability indicate that they sometimes use screens as a reward, which is more than the average.

Stopping is also often more difficult for children with a disability. 43% of all parents indicate that their child struggles to detach from the screen by themselves. For children with an intellectual disability, that percentage rises to 80%. These children have a greater need for clear rules, like a timer or a reminder from mum or dad when screentime is over.

What about smartphones and social media?

“I am divorced. Sometimes she wants to call her mum, but she’s not that inclined to start a conversation herself.”
Dad of a 12-year-old daughter with ASS (type 9)

Children with a disability tend to get their own smartphone a little later than others. Parents indicate that they tend to seek out communication with others only at a later age. In that sense, it’s not surprising that children with a disability are also less active on social media. 28% of parents with children who don’t yet have a social media account even indicate that they wouldn’t allow them to make one. In their opinion, their child wouldn’t understand or is mentally too young for it. Parents clearly have a lot of worries about social media. 

What can they do independently?


place messages on social media independently.



can take photos of others without help.

1 in 2

can make video calls on their own.

Children with a disability are generally very skilled with tablets and smartphones. All children of parents who took part in the MediaNest Cijfers research seem to watch videos on YouTube and play games on the tablet in equal measure. It’s mostly communicative and social tasks that children with special needs need help from parents with to varying degrees. 11% of parents type what their child dictates when they want to send a message and 7% take over entirely. 5% of children use dictation on their phone and 6% uses assistance from an ‘intelligent assistant’ like Siri.

4 in 5 of these parents indicate that their child learns by doing. 74% does not need additional technical support. The remaining share uses a mix of speech technology (6%), dictation (6%), a special tablet or laptop (7%) or special software (7%). 

What do parents worry about?

Parents and teachers in special education regularly signal that children have trouble finding their way online. But that’s not parents’ biggest concern: parents who took part in the MediaNest Cijfers research mostly wonder whether their child can empathise with what others say or share online (38%). In second and third place is the concern about whether their child has trouble understanding photos and videos (24%) and messages (20%). 

They are more likely than other parents to seek support from teachers, educators, or social support workers. At the same time, they make sure to set the right example more than other parents. For 45% this poses no issues, another 45% indicate that they sometimes manage, and only 10% say that they don’t manage very well at all. It seems that they are more aware of their position as a role model. ‘Do as I do’ is easier to enforce than ‘do as I say’. 

Published on 22 February 2024