“What would we do if not for this?” We have parents sigh in relief about their smartphones which help keep their children entertained for hours together. There’s no mistaking it, these gadgets do make life easier in the times that we live in. But studies by experts indicate that an overdependence on screens, be it the smartphone, tablet, television, computer or laptop, is beginning to have detrimental effects on children, leading to the rise of behavioral oddities akin to ASD!
A terminology coined by Marius Teodor Zamfir, a Romanian psychologist, in 2018, virtual autism is a condition found in children below 3 years from overexposure to the screen. Do note that virtual autism does not mean your child is autistic. Virtual autism is a condition based on the observations of experts such as Mr. Zamfir and not a recognised medical diagnosis.
Symptoms of virtual autism
Lack of interest in other activities that involve play
Withdrawal from social interactions
Frequently cranky or having mood swings
Short attention span
Delayed cognitive development
How is screen time bad?
There is a vast difference in the way children live in today’s times, exposure to screens being a significant part of their days. A child is held in a hypnotic state in a world that does not exist. The lack of development within the neurological system of a child’s brain severely hampers its reasonable growth. Here, the aggressive onslaught of visual and auditory stimuli from a screen is beyond the control of the child.
Imagine the normal process of learning where the many senses are used to touch, listen, see, taste and smell, thereby stimulating the various parts of the brain. Children are encouraged to run, build sand castles, think aloud, squeal with joy, scream with anger, feel the sunshine on their faces, jump in puddles, interact with peers and just be! Doesn’t a screen suddenly seem very limiting in what it has to offer?
The virtual world can be used to good effect. But as adults, it is up to us to limit its use in terms of quality and quantity. Without intervention at the right time, the damage inflicted may be far more than we can comprehend.
While there will be extensive research on the effects of excessive screen time on our children in the years to come, the good news is that virtual autism is curable. You’ll be surprised to know that this condition is reversible simply by introducing the child back to the real world.
Treatment for virtual autism includes no screen time and plenty of:
Playing outdoors, eg., the park or the beach
Board games or puzzles
Playing games with other children
Art & craft
Visiting the zoo
Reading story books
Helping with chores around the house
Remember that your child needs quality time with the people he/she holds dearest. Keeping aside time to do the above activities with your child is crucial in full recovery.
Seek expert advice if you need help with diagnosis or want to know where to begin. You may also reach out to us at AIS Dubai where my team provides behavior therapy including autism intervention services. Catch the full explanation on our Instagram handle where I talk about the various aspects of this condition.