In this day and age, it seems that everyone has a digital device,including young children. There are a number of valid concerns in regard to addiction to these devices, sleep disturbances, short term and long term eye issues, and brain development. As is often the case, those children who already have problems in these areas are at greater risk of harm. Our specific concern in this article has to do with excessive screen time and autism or autism spectrum disorder. This article first looks at autism spectrum disorder and its communication, social interaction, and behavioral components. Then we look at new information about how excessive screen time and autism are related.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a“developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. (National Institute of Mental Health)
Autism spectrum disorder includes a number of similar conditions, Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. These individual conditions are now considered to be variations in severity and presentation of the same condition.
The incidence in the USA of autism spectrum disorder is about one in 59 children. Better diagnosis and screening in recent years have been responsible for identifying many more children than were previously thought to have this disorder. The children with this diagnosis may have severe problems and some may simply need help with communication skills.
Kids in the autism spectrum have difficulty in or lack of interest in communication and social interaction. They tend to isolate and have repetitive and inappropriate behaviors partially as a result of their lack of interaction with, and understanding of, others.
All children (and adults) who fall along the Autism Spectrum have difficulty with social interaction and communication. A child will not make eye contact with others, listen to them, or look at others. Also,an autistic child will rarely or never show things to others or respond to someone calling their name. These characteristics play out with difficulty in holding conversations back and forth with others. And, when a child in the autism spectrum starts talking about a favorite topic, they will not give others an opportunity to respond and not notice that others have lost interest.
The tone of voice of a child in the autism spectrum may sound flat or have a sing-song quality. And, their facial expressions commonly do not match what they are talking about.
As time goes by it becomes apparent that autistic kids are having trouble understanding the viewpoints of other people, are unable to understand why others are doing what they do, and cannot accurately predict what someone else will do next.
As the communication difficulties of a child with autism spectrum disorder inhibit their communication with and understanding of others,they tend to isolate.
Kids in the autism spectrum often exhibit echolalia, the incessant repetition of words and phrases. They exhibit strong and persistent interest in facts, details, and especially numbers.
An autistic child will commonly be very focused on very specific things like objects that are moving or their parts. And, these children are easily upset when their routine is interrupted even to a small degree.
Specifically, in regard to our focus on excessive screen time and autism, autistic kids are often much more sensitive to sensory stimuli such as noises, lights, or temperature changes.
In Psychology Today,Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. writes about Autism and Screen Time: Special Brains, Special Risks.
Dr. Dunckley writes this.
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are uniquely vulnerable to various brain-related impacts of screen time. These electronic “side effects” include hyperarousal and dysregulation-what I call Electronic Screen Syndrome-as well as technology addiction, to video games, internet, smartphones, social media,and so on.
She notes, as we do, that children with preexisting conditions, like autism spectrum disorder, are more vulnerable to the pervasive effects of excessive screen time. The good doctor goes to list eleven specific areas in with excessive screen time and autism result in worsening of the condition.
If you think that your child may be one of the one in fifty-nine who falls within the autism spectrum, talk to your doctor, your pediatrician, or someone experienced with this constellation of problems. There are many people with this condition who are living normal and productive lives after having received appropriate attention early on.
Should you hide the smartphone, tablet, and laptop computer? We live in an information age and it will harder over the years to work, communicate, and live in modern society without these devices and the skills needed to use them. But, there is a line between normal screen time and addiction. Basic issues like digital eye strain, sleep problems, and computer vision syndrome can be easily dealt with by periodically resting the eyes, avoiding excessive screen time late at night,and using glasses that block blue light.
However, if your child falls within the autism spectrum,you need to get advice and help from someone specialized in this area. And, one of the questions you need to ask is about excessive screen time and autism.
With the high-energy blue light that today’s digital devices emit, how can you protect your children’s eyes? Blue light blocking glasses are the key.
Energy processing parts of the retinal cell of the eye, called mitochondria, have been shown to be damaged by excessive blue light exposure like from digital screens.
Blue light is high in energy. The truth about blue light is that it is essential to the waking and sleeping cycle but too much can cause problems.
In the modern world, we spend lots of time looking at computer and video screens from very close distances. What is it doing to you and your child's eyes?