Express News Service
KOCHI: With ‘Alexa’ making inroads into the world of toddlers, even to the extent of replacing ‘amma’ and ‘appa’ as the first word, it is high time the impact of electronic gadgets on infants and young children was carefully assessed.
Owing to over-exposure to screen time on TV, tablets and mobile phones, children, especially those below the age of three, are steadily developing communication and behavioral anomalies.
Researchers across the world have warned of the likelihood of ‘virtual autism’ in such children — a condition which is reversible if identified in its early stages and corrective measures taken.
The age up to three years is very crucial for any toddler to develop language and speech skills. It is through observing lip movements of those around them that babies learn to speak. Experts opine that if this is replaced by mimicking characters as seen on TV, developmental issues are sure to develop in the child.
“Children try to imitate words by observing the lip movements of their parents and those around them. We have cases where children below the age of three years have been affected by serious developmental issues, including delay in developing speech capability. We see children who speak English words at the age of three-four years, but they are largely those that don’t make any sense for meaningful communication. This happens when cartoon characters seen on TV are imitated,” said Dr Abraham Paul, paediatrician and executive director of Child Care Centre.
Unlike old times, in today’s world where gadgets are used widely in households, the repeated calls to ‘Alexa’ at homes have made toddlers switch to it as the first spoken word rather than ‘Appa’ or ‘Amma’, say doctors.
“Even with their grandparents around, children are exposed to TV or tablets. Gadgets are the norm to coax a child into eating, to calm down tantrums, and also during leisure. Time-tested methods that were used by grandparents have been junked,” said Dr Arathy Rajan, paediatrician based in Kochi.
Autism Spectrum Disorder has been observed in many children.
Though 40-80% of the cases are due to genetic predisposition, autistic symptoms triggered by the environmental risk factors along with gene variants can add to the risk of ‘virtual autism’.
“We cannot say that excessive exposure to screen time alone will cause autism. However, in case of children who are predisposed to autism, the likelihood is large. Speech and language development is very crucial for children. Lack of effective communication skills is causing a lot of issues among these children. The earlier we as parents intervene, the better,” said Dr Abraham.
According to child experts, the red flag in the case of autism is when children at the age of around two who are normally able to speak two sentences or 20 words revert to a state where they cannot even utter a word. In such cases of regression, rigorous therapy sessions are required.
“Ignorance and lack of communication among parents are the main causes that lead to issues affecting children. In most cases, aggressive behavior and tantrums shown by the children can be addressed. The first three-six months are very crucial for the child and so parents should be focused on their development,” said Dr Jency Blesson, joint director of Jewel Autism and Child Development Centre, Kottayam.