Autism and screen time could be related, study shows

Around 1 in 44 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and researchers are studying a possible link between autism and screen time.

Norton Children’s Autism Center

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Excessive screen time can impact a child’s speech, physical and emotional development. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children younger than 18 to 24 months, and no more than one hour of screen time for children between ages 2 and 5 years.

A recent study, “Association Between Screen Time Exposure in Children at 1 Year of Age and Autism Spectrum Disorder at 3 Years of Age,” showed that longer durations of screen time among 1-year-old boys was “significantly associated” with autism spectrum disorder at 3 years old. The study did not note the amount of time or extent of a child’s screen time leading up to a later autism diagnosis.

“Although the association between autism and screen time is still being studied, it’s important for parents to regulate and control their child’s screen time, especially among babies and toddlers,” said Gregory N. Barnes, M.D., Ph.D., director of Norton Children’s Autism Center, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, and child neurologist with Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

Longer screen time can affect a child’s social development as well. When a child is locked into a phone, tablet, computer or television for extended periods of time, it leaves less room for playtime and interaction with parents/caregivers or other children.

According to another study exploring autism and screen time, “Correlation Between Screen Time and Autistic Symptoms as Well as Development Quotients in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” researchers found: “The longer the screen time, the more severe the symptoms of ASD (especially sensory symptoms), and the more obvious the developmental delay, especially in ASD children with a longer screen time and younger age, particularly in the language domain.” Although the association is still under study, it was noted that children with more severe autism at older ages tend to look at video devices more due to their inability to interact with other children. Thus, the current study’s observations may indicate the severity of autism and have nothing to do with screen time itself.

Due to increased screen time and use of devices during the pandemic, the AAP clarified that video chatting with family members is an acceptable form of screen time among young children.