Students in India tried to bounce back to normalcy in June 2022 after home isolation for last couple of years. Schools had opened in physical with safety precautions in place. Children and their parents were both happy and anxious. Various speculations were made of another Covid -19 wave with students attending schools in large numbers leaving them a little scope of social distancing. Families as a whole were trying to adjust back to the morning routines and schedules far from the comfort of online schooling and work from home.
In the Pre-Primary and Primary section , lot of concerns were raised for various behaviours of social anxiety, short attention span and inability to sit in one place for few students. While the High School students had their own set of issues. A benefit window period was given to these students attributing to the fact of no social exposure during the pandemic. For many students between the age of 5 and 6 years, it was their first experience attending school and staying away from their parents. But within 3 months time, most students settled while few didn’t show any improvement. These students were further referred for taking medical opinion.
Most Paediatricians and Therapy Centres across the country were alarmed by the sudden influx of students at risk for Autism. Now, as well these cases are high when the academic year is about to end and the student still shows significant social, communication and academic difficulties.
The reasons for the above are plenty and there is a lot of literature supporting the same. During the pandemic, the parents were busy working from home while the children were left glued to the screen for unlimited hours. A study from JAMA Pediatrics illustrates that increased screen exposure at 1 year of age is significantly associated with autism spectrum diagnosis at 3 years of age. Some studies suggest that increased screen exposure leads to neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain causing aberrant behaviour, decreased cognitive and language development. Reports show that screen time exceeding 3 hours per day had language delay, short attention span and hyperactivity in children.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent deficits in social communication, and interaction and stereotyped or repetitive patterns of behaviours, interests or activities. Excessive early-life screen media exposure has been associated with developmental delay and autism symptoms. And probably we are just experiencing the same. Decreased screen time and increased social engagements have been reported to cause a decrease in autistic like symptoms.
Dr Isha Soni is a Senior Occupational Therapist.