Durable Human (2 book series)

Video Feedback Shown to Parents May Help Preempt Autism in Their Babies

Photo of hands on a video camera trained at a child and mother playing on the floor. Photo courtesy Australia Infant Communication and Engagement Study

Can autism be stopped once it appears to be started? Yes, according to an Australian study, if parents are taught through video feedback how to best engage with their babies. 

“We are helping parents fine-tune their parenting to the unique abilities of their baby,” says the study’s lead researcher.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” 

Autism rates have jumped dramatically in recent years. 1 in 54 American children are now identified with ASD, while the number was 1 in 5,000 back in 1975.

Typically, a child receives an autism diagnosis at about age 3 or 4. Until that time, the approach has been to closely observe babies showing early signs of emerging autistic behavior. 

Researchers at the University of Western Australia wanted to try a different approach: to preempt the condition.

The Autism Pre-Emption Study

The study identified a group of one-year-old babies displaying autistic-like tendencies, such as difficulty having eye contact and not responding to their names.    

For half the babies in the study group, the wait-and-see approach was used. Parents of the second group of babies underwent “preemptive” video feedback.

Mother receiving feedback from the videotaping of her interaction with her child University of Western Australia

“We video parents interacting with their child and go back over the video with the parents frame by frame to help them understand all the beautiful ways their babies communicate,” explains Andrew Whitehouse, chief investigator of the Australian Infant Communication and Engagement Study (AICES).

“We took the approach that babies who are developing a bit differently aren’t getting the social enrichment around them that they require because they process the world in a different way.”

Among babies whose parents received the video feedback, 2 out of 3 did not have an autism diagnosis when they turned age 3.

In other words, reports Whitehouse, “The children who received the intervention were less likely to receive an autism diagnosis at age 3 compared to the children who didn’t receive intervention.” 

Some are “Late Bloomers”

“We’re helping babies develop a feeling of being perceived and understood and so that they have a greater feeling of back and forth interactions…which are really the foundational building blocks of brain development,” reports Whitehouse.

In some cases, he says, babies in the study were simply “late bloomers.” “They were always going to be on a typical path. They’re just a little bit delayed at the moment so we have to have an intervention that is ethical to deliver to people who may not even need it.”

Increased face-to-face social interaction between babies and caregivers is also corrective for the newly-identified condition known as Virtual Autism.

In that case, toddlers begin to show autistic-like symptoms after months of daily exposure to hours of screen media.  

When the media exposure is replaced with face-to-face talking, reading and 3-dimensional full-sensory non-electronic play, the children often return to a normal developmental path.

Parallels with Virtual Autism

As for the two conditions, “there is converging evidence, without a doubt,” Whitehouse says. “Babies require social enrichment to develop. This is not a good to have, this is a must have.”

The techniques taught during video feedback can be useful for any parent, Whitehouse points out. 

“We’ve got a whole lot of whopping distractions that constantly compete for our attention. One of great things of this intervention is that is helps parents to slow down and to understand the wonder that they can experience when they see children through their own eyes.”

Watch the interview with Andrew Whitehouse: 

Now that their findings have been replicated, Whitehouse and his team plan to share their techniques with early interventionists around the world.    

To learn more about everyday brain-enrichment for babies, read this and check out the Durable U parenting course, “Supercharge the Brain and Language Power of Your Baby or Toddler.”

About the author:

Jenifer Joy Madden is the founder of DurableHuman.com. She is a Syracuse University adjunct professor of broadcast and digital media, a certified digital wellness instructor, and proud parent of three grownup practicing durable humans.

Kids Can Have Better Eyesight if Parents Know What To Do

Mom and child in park look at plants

Just like teaching them to brush their teeth, parents can help their children take better care of their eyes. That is, if the parents themselves know good vision habits. A new study shows that when parents are taught eyecare basics, they pass them on to their kids. A new parenting course helps them to learn. 

Myopia Rising

Many studies, including this new one in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, reveal the eye condition Myopia is rampant among school-aged children.

Myopia is the technical term for being near-sighted or short-sighted. The condition changes the shape of the eye and causes things in the distance to look blurry.

Covid has made the worldwide trend worse by leading to much more screen viewing and an indoor-based lifestyle. At this rate, the Brian Holden Vision Institute predicts, by 2050 every other person will be nearsighted.

The fact that half of all humans will wear glasses may not seem like a big deal until you consider Myopia makes it easier to develop vision-destroying diseases. In the words of JAMA Ophthalmology, “One in 3 persons with high myopia will eventually become visually impaired or even blind.”

The journal authors point out another fact parents may not know: “Many ophthalmic diseases are caused by unhealthy behavior.”

In other words, eye problems can be PREVENTED.

Thankfully, another study in the same AMA journal shows Myopia rates drop among kids if parents teach them healthy eyecare habits.

In the study, teachers in China sent some of the parents of their students weekly eyecare tips via WeChat. Other parents received no special instruction. The result: “the 2-year cumulative incidence rate of myopia in the intervention group was significantly lower than that in the control group.”

Toward Better Children’s Eye Care

Exactly how do kids maintain good vision? Science is learning more.

“Both electronic screen use and outdoor activity have recently been reported as key factors influencing the onset and progression of Myopia in school-aged children,” say the JAMA journal authors.

Messages from the Chinese teachers boiled down to 3 simple habits (which The Durable Human previously detailed here): Continue reading

Durable is the New Resilient

To explain concept of a durable human being, image is of woman in business attire standing in front of a shadow of a superwoman

As the pandemic drags on, you need to be a durable human. Simply being resilient doesn’t cut it anymore. New findings point to why.  

White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci wants our response to the COVID vaccine to be as durable as possible.

Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema says only laws with bipartisan backing will be durable.  

On Joe Rogan’s podcast, New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt spoke of how “parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn.” He used “antifragile.”

Lebanese-American essayist Nassim Nicholas says he coined that term because “there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile.”

But, actually—there is.

Durable: The Word We are Searching For

Endure and durable share the Latin root durare, which means to last. Meriam-Webster defines durable as “staying strong and in good condition over a long period of time.”

Resilience is “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”

To be a durable human is not merely to bounce back from adversity, but to have the inner shock absorbers to withstand the constant bumps on the road of life. 

“When we think about being durable,” I told host Hillary Wilkinson on her Healthy Screen Habits podcast, “we have to think about what are we. What is our edge as a human being.”

That is, the powers we have as human beings that our “smart” devices don’t. Phones and sensors may be able to “see” and “hear” as they try to emulate our famous five senses. But it’s all the other senses that machines lack.

“They don’t have intuition. They don’t have compassion. They don’t have curiosity.” Those are only a few that I named for Hillary.

Our job is to keep our human senses durable and our human selves different.

If kids spend too much time caught up in others’ creations (video games and social media, especially), they can’t follow their own curiosity. They won’t come up with their own ideas. Eventually, humanity could become more like a herd of sheep. 

As I write in The Durable Human Manifesto,

“The danger is that when individuals are no longer diverse in outlook and action, they will contribute less as a group. With little to differentiate them or to offer society, humans could actually become irrelevant. At that point, it will be easier and cheaper to replace them with robots.”

Positives of the Pandemic

Parents used their human intuition to help their kids be more durable during the pandemic.

The American Academy of Pediatrics surveyed thousands of its members and learned that many families managed to create a loving, safe-feeling, and even hopeful home as the pandemic raged around them. Pediatricians dub that a “positive childhood experience.”

Other adults also played a big role in kids’ COVID-era lifestyle. According to the May 2021 report in the journal Pediatrics, “Children have felt the caring of grandparents, teachers, health providers, home visitors, and others who persistently connected by phone, text, and/or video chat.”

A PCE is the opposite of an ACE, or an “adverse childhood experience.” While an ACE damages a child’s mental or physical health, a PCE builds kids’ self-esteem and emotional durability.

Adversity pushes us to dig deep into our inner resources. As I write in The Manifesto

It’s often when we’re forced from the familiar that our durability will shine.  

The Pinch of Generosity

But even with so much human-to-human support both online and off, many kids have drifted into not-so-healthy digital habits that are interfering with their human assets.

Surveys show the way they used technology during the pandemic has damaged their social skills, confidence, attention spans, and vision.

Kids need their parents and other loving adults to help them get back on track. To do that, we need to fully see and hear them so we can help sort out their hurt and confusion. 

The term “continuous partial attention” means always having an eye (and most likely a hand) on your phone, even when you’re talking with someone face-to-face.

“It’s very damaging for children’s self esteem,” I said to Hillary. “It forces them away and, in fact, can force them into relying on their devices.” Instead of on you.

Admittedly, it’s hard not to always be In The Know. It can hurt to set aside your phone so you can give your child your full attention. But when you feel that pinch of generosity, know you’re laying another brick in the foundation of your child’s life success.

The Road to Durable

Book Cover How to Be a Durable HumanBook cover of How To Be a Durable Human Book cover of How To Be a Durable Human

How To Be a Durable Human is filled with easy, no-cost ways to create secure attachment with your child as you build their (and your) durability.  

You can also listen to the Healthy Screen Habits podcast.

Health Screen Habits Podcast photo Jenifer Joy Madden

About the author:

Jenifer Joy Madden is a certified digital wellness specialist, a Syracuse University broadcast and digital journalism adjunct professor, and founder of DurableHuman.com.

Wellness Habits Help Families Adjust Post Pandemic

Woman, Man and Little Child read a Book

Starting simple wellness habits can help families move beyond the pandemic, which took a heavy toll on health, social skills, and confidence. New surveys reveal the extent of the damage, but point to avenues for healing and durability.

Even though the pandemic caused “major disruptions” in their children’s lives, many parents believe family bonds grew stronger. “Most parents set out to create safe and loving homes for their children, which led to closer positive relationships” according to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Family Snapshots survey done with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

But even as they tried to create a sense of comfort, parents and care givers were under stress. The pandemic changed the nature of almost half the jobs held by those who had been working full- or part-time.  

1 Billion Meals Not Served

Many more American families did not have enough to eat. “Estimates suggest food insecurity in households with children more than doubled,” according to Eliza Kensey, associate research scientist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Black and brown families were disproportionately affected, as were families in rural communities.

During the first two months of the pandemic, kids missed out on an estimated 1 billion free or reduced-price school meals. 30 to 40% of those meals have yet to be replaced, Kinsey’s analysis shows. “Loss of access to school meals, such as we saw with school closures during the COVID pandemic, puts millions of households at increased risk of food insecurity,” Kinsey explained in a SciLine media briefing

In households with enough food, children’s weight crept upward. In a small study of mainly non-hispanic white children after the first 5 months of quarantine, “the majority of children experienced accelerated weight gain above and beyond what is observed during a typical 3-month summer,” according to a report in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

The authors point to “the potential negative consequences of prolonged periods of time quarantined at home where children are removed from their ‘typical’ daily structure and routine.” The lockdown effect, they add, “could be even greater on children from racial or ethnic minority groups.”

The Eyes Have Had It

woman and boy look at desk top computer screen

Of the millions of children who could attend online school, many had aches and pains on a daily basis, according to a March 2021 parent Pulse Survey by the Digital Wellness Lab of Boston Children’s Hospital. Chief among them: eye pain, headaches, and blurry or double vision. 

“I see a huge increase in my practice,” reports Larry Jones, a doctor of optometry and president-elect of the American Optometric Association. The AOA held an emergency summit in March 2021 because of what organizers consider “a burgeoning crisis” for children’s eye health.    

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