In the delightful world of toddlerhood, every moment is a new adventure filled with curiosity and exploration. However, the charm of screens can sometimes lead to unintended consequences, like "virtual autism." This term refers to a collection of symptoms resembling ASD that can result from excessive screen time during early childhood and lead to developmental challenges. It is important to manage screen time effectively to ensure healthy growth and development in toddlers.
Some months ago, I met Kitty's parents; they have a charming and energetic 2-year-old toddler who has recently discovered the magical world of tablets. At first, her parents were delighted to witness their daughter's excitement as she swiped her tiny fingers across the screen, giggling at the colourful animations that unfolded before her eyes. However, as weeks turned into months, Kitty's fascination with the tablet began to raise concerns. She became increasingly engrossed in the device, often spending hours lost in a virtual wonderland. Her social interactions dwindled, eye contact became fleeting, and tantrums surfaced when the tablet was taken away. Worried, Kitty's parents, when searching for these symptoms, thought it was autism. Many parents get confused, just like Kitty's parents, and consider these symptoms to be autism, but in reality they could be virtual autism.
If you are sailing on the same boat, then these tips on virtual autism could help you too.
Screen-Free Zones: Try to designate specific areas in your home as screen-free zones. Especially the dining table and playroom become the best spaces for face-to-face interactions, creative play, and family bonding. These zones serve as a reminder that there's a world beyond screens waiting to be explored. This will help maintain a healthy separation between screen time and other essential activities.
Engage Together: Realising that the complete elimination of screens might not be realistic, you can practise mindful co-viewing. Whenever your child shows interest in a digital activity, you should join in, turning it into an opportunity for shared experiences and discussions. This also allowed them to ask questions and guide their exploration. It not only enhances their learning but also strengthens your connection with them.
Encourage outdoor play: Keep in mind that balance is key. Encourage outdoor play and physical activities that stimulate sensory experiences and motor development. In the beginning, try to introduce short outdoor sessions that involve running, jumping, and exploring nature, effectively counterbalancing their indoor screen time.
courage indoor activities: Indoor play includes everything from building blocks to finger painting; these hands-on experiences stimulate kids senses and motor skills. Active playtime becomes an enticing alternative to the passive engagement screens offer.
As I advised Kitty's parents, they diligently implemented these strategies and began to witness positive changes in their daughter's behaviour. Her engagement with the real world increased, her tantrums reduced, and her communication skills flourished. By effectively managing Kitty's screen time, they had navigated away from the potential pitfalls of "virtual autism."
If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that each child is unique and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. For personalised guidance tailored to your toddler's needs, consider consulting with Solicitude Parenting by Ritu Jian. Their experts can help you create a customised plan that aligns with your child's developmental stage, interests, and family dynamics. Together, you can embark on a journey that nurtures your toddler's growth while steering clear of the digital detours that can lead to "virtual autism."