virtual autism in fants 0 to 3 years
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What is Virtual Autism? In 2018, Romanian psychologist Marius Teodor Zamfir introduced the term “virtual autism” after conducting a study on children aged 0 to 3 years. The study observed that children who spent more than 4 hours a day staring at screens experienced “sensory-motor and socio-affective deprivation.” This deprivation led to the manifestation of behaviors and traits resembling those found in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), particularly in three key areas: social interactions, language development, and cognition.

Romanian psychologist Marius Zamfir coined the term “Virtual Autism” to describe this screen-induced syndrome. He expresses concerns about the lack of motivation in children exposed to excessive screen content, as their brains become accustomed to receiving pleasure without making any effort.

Also Read: Know about Autism: Complete Guide to Autism Care and Treatment

The Studies and Research On Virtual Autism Signifies Brain Changes

In a separate study conducted in 2022, researchers examined over 84,000 Japanese babies and their mothers. They discovered that among boys, longer screen time at 1 year of age was significantly associated with autism spectrum disorder at 3 years of age.

Another recent study has found observable changes in the brains of toddlers, confirming the behavioral indicators previously observed. Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have presented evidence in JAMA Pediatrics, suggesting that young children who spend over two hours a day on screens have reduced brain white matter. White matter in the brain plays a vital role in thought processing, organization, and other essential functions.

To explain further, study author Dr. John Hutton compared white matter to cables, similar to telephone lines, connecting different parts of the brain to enable communication. The study revealed that the white matter responsible for language and literacy development was relatively less developed in children with higher screen time.

The study involved 47 healthy toddlers, with screen exposure ranging from zero to approximately five hours a day.

While the researchers did not establish a direct link to “virtual autism” or mention specific autistic-like symptoms in their report, the findings raise important considerations about screen time’s potential impact on early brain development in young children.

A Brief Note on Screen Induced Syndrome Virtual Autism by Marius Teodor Zamfir

The Connection Between Virtual Autism and Autism Related Symptoms

In early 2020, JAMA Pediatrics released an analysis co-authored by Karen Frankel Heffler, which revealed that babies exposed to TV and videos at age one had a slightly higher likelihood of displaying autistic-like symptoms by the age of two, compared to non-TV watching babies. Conversely, the study found that reduced screen exposure and increased parent-child play at 12 months old were associated with fewer ASD-like symptoms by the age of two.

In 2022, Heffler’s team conducted a pilot intervention involving nine children aged between 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 years, all diagnosed with ASD and watching at least 2 hours of screen media daily. The study demonstrated that replacing screen time with increased interaction with caregivers led to a significant decrease in children’s screen viewing from an average of 5.6 hours per day before the intervention to only 5 minutes per day during the study. Remarkably, core autism symptoms and parent stress showed significant improvements from pre- to post-intervention.

Additionally, Heffler’s team published a case study involving two toddlers diagnosed with autism. The study indicated that ceasing screen time and increasing social interaction resulted in marked improvements in their developmental progress.

Furthermore, Australian research suggests that babies displaying early signs of autism may potentially avoid an autism diagnosis if parents are taught communication skills through video feedback.

These studies emphasize the crucial role of interactive play and reduced screen time in potentially mitigating autistic-like symptoms and enhancing developmental outcomes in young children with autism.

What Should Parents Do to Prevent This Screen-Induced Syndrome?

Promoting Healthy Child Development: Tips for Parents and Caregivers and Screen Time Guidelines for Children

  1. For children younger than 24 months, it is advisable to avoid the use of electronic devices with screens, and ensure devices are turned off when not in use, especially in children’s rooms.
  2. Limit screen time to one hour per day, and allow usage only in the presence of adults. This helps children better understand the intended content.
  3. Children between 2 and 3 years old should have a maximum of one hour of screen time per day. Opt for high-quality programs and avoid screen usage during meals or one hour before bedtime.
  4. Engage in regular talking, playing, and reading sessions with your child daily, making the most of these precious moments together.
  5. Offer a variety of materials, toys, and games that encourage hands-on manipulation, such as empty plastic food containers and lids, stacking cups, play dough, finger paints, and a play kitchen.
  6. Ensure your child gets outdoor playtime every day, allowing them to play alone and interact with other children.
  7. Avoid using screens when you are with your young child to foster more meaningful interactions.
  8. Refrain from handing a phone to your baby or young child, and keep the screen locked, just in case they try to grab it.
  9. Keep the TV off around kids under age four, even if it’s only playing in the background and the child seems disinterested in the content.
  10. Educate family members and caregivers about the importance of these measures for your child’s healthy development, resilience, and overall well-being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) too affirms agrees that infants under 12 months shouldn’t have exposure to screens for the sake of their health and proper brain formation.

Also Read: 11 Warning Signs of Nutritional Deficiencies You Must Know