In today’s technology scenario, kids of all age groups love playing with mobiles and tablets. They can stay engrossed with their gadgets for hours together. But is this a cause for concern? What is virtual autism? Let’s explore!
While gadgets have become an essential part of our daily lives, it’s important to limit children’s exposure to them. Allowing them to spend extended periods of time on these devices can negatively impact their development. It has been observed that gadget addiction can lead to characteristic symptoms associated with autism, including social, communication and behavioural challenges in kids. Maria Zamfir, a Romanian Psychologist, coined the term ‘Virtual Autism’ to refer to these screen-induced symptoms in children. Though this condition is not classified in DSM yet, more and more parents and therapists have evidenced the presence of autism-like features in children, which is reversed by reducing or avoiding screen time.
Virtual Autism Treatment
Virtual autism treatments that help your child the most will depend on their needs and situation. The treatment plans are tailored according to their unique needs as it affects each individual differently. Toddlers learn by observing others, investigating their environment, and engaging in unstructured play during their early childhood years, which are critical for brain development. For babies to develop to their full potential, it is crucial for parents to spend a lot of time with them at this vital stage of development.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
The treatment techniques in ABA focus on reducing maladaptive behaviours while minimising the environmental triggers or conditions that contribute to them and increasing the strength of desirable behaviours. Through a reward-based motivation system, screen time is reduced, and the child is encouraged to explore and indulge in other play activities.
Spending too much time in a virtual world deprives the young infant’s growing brain of important stimulation. This may result in speech delay, stuttering, cartoonish talk or even impairment in functional communication of the child. A speech-language therapist can help these kids improve their communication and interaction abilities.
Occupational therapists can help develop play skills in your child. Kids learn through play, and play skills are indispensable for physical, social and emotional development. By focusing on play-based activities, your child can learn and develop in an engaging and fun-filled way.
Sensory Integration (SI) Therapy
Sensory integration treatment aims to address neurological processing deficiencies and improve the integration of sensory information so that the child can interact with the environment more adaptively.
Family Therapies and Therapy at Home
Home programs are also crucial as it helps to strengthen the developments attained from therapy sessions. In the family therapy program, parents and other family members are provided with helpful guidance on how to interact and play with their children to promote social interaction skills, limit screen exposure, control problem behaviours, and improve communication and daily living abilities. This approach promotes meaningful and functional interactions, benefiting the children and the entire family. This program empowers families to create a positive and supportive environment where their children can thrive and develop into well-rounded individuals.
Some suggestions for limiting the time kids spend in “virtual environments”
The below guidelines will help parents limit the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV, tablet, computer, or mobile phone:
- Create a daily schedule that you and the child can follow.
- Create guidelines for your child’s phone, computer, and TV use.
- Take away any devices from the child’s line of sight.
- Provide incentives or praise when a child follows the daily programme.
- Construct a special home area filled with fun items that may be used when the kid gets bored and wants to play on the tablet. So, the emphasis will be on something new.
- When doing schoolwork, the TV and computer should be turned off.
- Developing a child’s emotional health is crucial, and movement significantly impacts this process. Physical activities greatly influence children’s emotional development. Walking will be a key component of physical activity. Sport stimulates interactions. It will teach kids to be patient with others, wait for their turn, be responsible, respect others, be accountable, deal with unforeseen circumstances, and adapt more readily.
Anju S John M.Sc (Clinical Psychology)
Minna Mathew M.phil(Clinical Psychology)