From Mad in America: Some children diagnosed with autism may benefit greatly from decreasing their exposure to electronic screens, like TVs, video games, tablets, and computers. A term called “Virtual Autism” or autism caused by screens has been used to describe this situation. Screens refer to television, phones, tablets etc. The term “virtual autism” was introduced by Romanian clinical psychologist Dr Marius Zamfir.
In Romania, they noticed a rise in autism cases linked to a lot of screen time. Research conducted by a psychiatrist found that children with autism were spending four or more hours a day watching some kind of screen: television, computer, tablet, or phone. Withdrawal from screen has become a common way of treatment in Romania.
The United States also saw a startling increase in autism diagnoses over the years. The latest government survey found that the number of children living with autism could be as high as 1 in 45. This means that currently in the United States, a child is 100 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism compared to children in 1975.
The main questions are-
- What is causing the sudden rise of autism?
- Does removing electronic screens from the lives of at least some young children decrease their risk of autism, or even reduce their symptoms after they have been diagnosed?
Two French doctors, Dr. Isabelle Terrasse and Dr. Anne-Lise Ducanda, in their YouTube video: “Screens: Danger for Children from 0-4 years old”, found that eliminating screen time for some children between 0 to 4 years old, who were diagnosed with autism, resulted in the disappearance of their symptoms. Screens blocked their brain development and prevented normal social interactions.
In the video, the doctors point out that children’s TV shows teach the child to repeat words without knowing what the word means.
A young child’s brain needs touch and interaction to develop properly. Electronic screens with bright lights and noise may grab a child’s attention, but they don’t help their brain grow in a healthy way.
Using screens also keeps the child away from talking to others, which is important for learning to communicate and develop language skills. It’s even worse because the noise and light from screens, including cartoons, can make the child feel very upset and overwhelmed. These strong feelings can cause the child to act out violently or aggressively.
The rise in the cases of autism has a relationship with the increased use of television since 1975 and the digital revolution. In today’s digital age, families often have many screens, around 10 to 15. These include big TVs, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and video game players. It’s interesting to note that even baby toys, like tablets, are advertised for babies as young as six months old.
It’s fascinating to know that the increase in autism mostly affects children in rich countries and not in less developed ones. This might be because in countries without the digital revolution, young kids aren’t exposed to screens as much. Dr. Ducanda observed that her “autistic” patients improved when they spent time in Africa without screens for a month.
When some children with autism have their screen time decreased, their brain development may become better, and they start playing more. However, this is not true for all children. Some small studies suggest it’s true for some kids, but not for everyone.
However, removing screens from a child’s life can be difficult for parents, and support from therapists or social workers well informed in child development may be helpful. Still spending more time in interactive play with the child can have remarkably positive effects, especially for those at risk or already diagnosed with autism.
This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.
This is an AI generated version shortened and edited for the South Asian audience.