Updated: Sep 26
Are you aware of the term“Virtual Autism"? There is a very thin line between Autism and Virtual autism. It is a disorder that occurs due to the overexposure of digital screens to toddlers. The impact of this disorder will affect Social interaction, lack of communication & behavior in kids. In other words, symptoms of Autism and
are almost the same but the reasons behind autism are many it could be by birth or trauma, or other factors but behind virtual autism there is only one reason that is screen time.
The phrase “Virtual Autism” was invented by Dr.Marius Zamfir, a clinical psychologist from Romania, to describe Screen Induced Syndrome in toddlers.
Let's briefly discuss virtual autism. How does it differ from classic autism? How to diagnose it or cure it?
What is Virtual Autism?
When exposure to screens is provided to a child, especially under the age of 18 to 36 months, who spend most of their time in front of a mobile, computer, television, or tablet screen can develop a new type of disorder called “VIRTUAL AUTISM”. In this condition, the child starts showing symptoms exactly like ASD.
It is observed that many children, especially those below the age of 18 months, who spend most of their time in front of a mobile, computer, television, or tablet screen may develop a new type of disorder called “VIRTUAL AUTISM”. If you look into this properly you will find that the main reason is not just screens, along with screen time other factors are nuclear family and less quality time from parents.
Even as an adult, we can't escape from the digital world and it will impact kids' lifestyles too. Because of a busy schedule, people hand over tabs or mobile phones in their little hands to keep their toddlers busy because of this they receive only a certain sensation from a virtual environment. Studies show that a toddler needs all five sensations (touch, hear, see, taste, and smell) to fully develop their mind.
In the digital world, children fail to experience all five senses. The screen is running so fast and the toddler fails to relate it to the real world.
To develop all five senses in toddlers it is necessary to introduce them to the external environment. Like playing with others.
How does virtual autism differ from classic autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a condition that reduces the ability to interact or communicate with others. It affects the overall nervous system of an individual. There is a lack of social, cognitive, and emotional skills.
Causes behind ASD are genetic or environmental factors like complications during pregnancy, inferior nutrients, etc. Whereas VSD happens due to overexposure to screens, symptoms are almost the same as classic autism. But the main difference is that virtual autism is curable whereas ASD cannot be curable, people have to learn to live with this disorder by managing it.
Effect of Virtual Autism on Child's Development:
Currently, children have more access to electronic media than the previous generation. The starting 36 months of a toddler's life is very crucial to develop and achieve all milestones like language and speech skills, motor skills, and cognitive skills.
According to Experts overexposure to screen times more than two hours per day affects brain development, leads to negative health outcomes, & the problem of short attention occurs. If virtual autism is not treated timely it can be converted into autism spectrum disorder. So it is necessary to identify whether your child has symptoms of virtual autism or not. So let's discuss the symptoms of VAD
Symptoms of virtual Autism disorder:
Children are spending hours in front of the screen whether it is mobile or tablet watching their favorite series like Cocomelon. Even if they are in outdoor activities like restaurants or in the house like mealtime. Keep in mind that your child is not autistic, they show autistic symptoms because of virtual Autism.
Symptoms of virtual autism are as follows:
a) Hyperactivity - Hyperactivity is the most common symptom of virtual autism in children. In a stage in which children are unusually active, they experience attention problems, In this, they are unable to concentrate on tasks or activities.
b) Inability to pay attention - In this children can find difficulties in paying attention. They get easily distracted.
c) Speech Delay - a toddler with virtual autism feeling difficulty while speaking. They don't want to speak. The child who is speaking in the beginning suddenly stops speaking after the virtual autism.
d) Lack of social interaction - The main feature of autism is social disconnection. In this virtual autistic kids are not showing interest in responding to anyone; it will affect their social skills.
e) Lack of interest in play activities - The children who suffer from this disorder have less interest in play activities or they don't want to play with others. They get comfortable with the tablet or mobile.
f) Irritability and mood swings - as an adult if we are spending too much time on screen then it will affect our health and mood. These are just newborn kids. It will impact their mood and behavior very badly.
The cause behind virtual autism:
Extended exposure of children to screens like phones, tablets, television, computers & laptops causes virtual autism. This happens when screen time is too long, especially for children less than 36 months old which causes autistic-like symptoms.
Studies suggest that if we introduce excess screen time to our young children it will lead to a negative impact on mental health. Currently, children worldwide spend more time with electronic screen media compared to previous generations. Studies show that Previous generation is more socially active in comparison to today's generation.
Young children are commonly found bounding with various electronic screen media in both higher economic & lower economic level society. This phenomenon can easily be seen in public places such as restaurants, shopping malls, playing grounds & schools.
It could be because of the busy schedules of parents they themselves are excessively engaged in the digital world.
According to research, increased screen time is linked to melanopsin-expressing neurons and a decline in the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which leads to abnormal behavior, language development & other problems in kids.
Treatment of virtual autism:
In today's generation screens are a major part of everyday life. It becomes very hard to escape from electronic media. We know that there are many disadvantages of digital screens to our health but still life is not possible without them. Because nowadays everything is connected to it, everything becomes digital. Virtual Autism in children is becoming common nowadays, especially after a full lockdown. They don't get enough exposure to the external environment. The parents become afraid by experiencing strange behavior in their kids. They are opting for different therapies to get their child better and treat them like autistic. But you can treat your child by trying these tips.
Tips to treat virtual autism disorder (VAD) are :
a) Eliminate screen time or decrease it gradually.
b) Actively exploring the world with our toddlers around through several activities like going to the park, interacting with others, encouraging group play, etc.
c) Give importance to face-to-face interaction with others.
D) Quality time with parents & adults such as bedtime stories, playing together, cooking together, etc.
E) Makes eye contact while interacting with kids.
People introduce mobile or tablets to their kids to make them busy while working but you can try these activity ideas with your child to keep them engaged,
b) Board games
c) Engage them in working with you
d) Drawing, give them some crayons and let them do their own creativity.
Recovery Signs of Virtual Autism:
If virtual autism gets identified timely it can be treated and cured fully. If proper treatment is provided to the child timely 80% of the child shows positive results in one month only.
Signs Of recovery from Virtual Autism Disorder
The child starts showing interest in playing activities
Making eye contact during a conversation
Start speaking or visible improvement in speech,
Start using hand gestures while showing something
Taking self-efforts while interacting with others.
Autism and virtual Autism are different disorders even though the symptoms are the same. It is necessary to identify disorders timely and provide the right treatment to the child. As early as you are able to identify it, the chance to recover increases so that the child can join a normal school and live a normal life without any delay. You can prevent it by changing the schedule or you can treat it timely with the guidance of a professional counselor. also you can join our WhatsApp channel to stay updated on virtual autism and other parenting challenges.