Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Clinical and Population Health Research



First Thesis Advisor

Stephenie C. Lemon, PhD


Developmental Disabilities, Adolescent, Health Behavior, Sedentary Lifestyle, Television, Video Games, Computers, Interpersonal Relations, Family


Dissertations, UMMS; Developmental Disabilities; Adolescent; Health Behavior; Sedentary Lifestyle; Television; Video Games; Computers; Interpersonal Relations; Family


Developmental disabilities (DEVDIS) such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), developmental delay (DD), and learning disabilities, affect 14% of US youth, who also experience higher rates of obesity, approximately 19%, than youth without these conditions. Screen time is a risk factor for obesity, though it is not well-studied among youth with developmental disabilities. Youth with developmental disabilities experience challenges with learning, have underdeveloped social skills, and problematic behaviors. These predispositions can often result in peer rejection. The resulting social isolation may make these youth particularly vulnerable to engaging in solitary activities such as screen time. The objectives of this dissertation were to compare screen time rates among youth with developmental disabilities to typically developing youth and to examine the associations between social and family engagement with screen time among youth with developmental disabilities.

Data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), a national cross-sectional study that assesses the physical and emotional health of US children (N = 91,642), were used. Youth 6-17 years, with ADHD (n = 7,024), ASD (n = 1,200), DD (n = 3,276), LD (n = 7,482), and without special health care needs (n = 44,461) were studied.

Unadjusted analyses found that children with DEVDIS engage in higher rates of screen time than youth without special health care needs. For youth with DEVDIS who were medicated for their ADHD, these associations attenuated. Thus ADHD symptoms, a common comorbidity across developmental disabilities, drove associations between the other developmental disabilities and screen time. Across all developmental disability groups, television in the bedroom was a significant screen time risk factor in both children and adolescents. Among children with ADHD, additional screen time risk factors included lack of caregiver knowledge of the child’s friends and any social engagement outside of the household. Among adolescents with ADHD, additional screen time risk factors included lower frequency that caregiver attends adolescent’s events and sport social engagement. Findings of this dissertation elucidate modifiable screen time risk factors that could potentially be adapted to decrease screen time among youth with developmental disabilities.



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