Robin thought she was “being Super Mom” as she made nice dinners and tidied her midwestern U.S. home, with her toddler son quietly sitting nearby watching made-for-babies TV. She didn’t know that by letting him watch so often, he was developing the newly described condition termed “Virtual Autism.”
Took a While to Realize
For weeks, Robin rationalized the changes she saw, but finally had to admit something was wrong. Her formerly happy, lively 14-month-old had stopped having eye contact, no longer said words, and began to display hand-flapping, spinning and other autistic-like symptoms.
“The big one was,” she recalls, “he had stopped answering to his name.” Continue reading →
Some babies born during COVID are developing more slowly and talking less than babies born before the pandemic, new research shows. But parents can help their babies catch up.
“I’m seeing children with global delays; with deficits in really early pre-language skills like pointing, giving, and reaching,” says Rhode Island speech-language pathologist Alyssa Loberti, M.S. CCC-SLP.
Less Parent-Baby Interaction Leads to Babies Talking Less
Due to stress, burnout, and other reasons, some parents had less than typical back-and-forth interaction with their babies during the height of COVID. As a result, the babies heard fewer words and some now have “significantly less vocalizations” than those born before the pandemic, finds Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab.
Less Baby Brain White Matter
ABI Lab imaging reveals some babies also have comparatively less white matter, a structural element the brain needs to learn and process information.
“It is the conversational turns that drive brain development,” ABI Lab chief investigator Sean Deoni, told The 74.
Developmental Deficits Linked to Screentime
Speech-language pathologist Loberti also sees a link between her young clients’ developmental deficits and how much time they have spent watching screens.
A new JAMA Pediatrics study of Chinese moms and babies conducted during the pandemic lockdown shows that “excessive screen exposure in early years is associated with poorer cognitive and social-emotional development, especially working memory capacities.” The babies studied who had little to no screen exposure have few learning and attention issues.
Children’s Apps Shown to be Manipulative
Meanwhile, another study in JAMA Pediatrics finds that many apps are made to manipulate and confuse little kids. The apps use design techniques that keep little ones engaged in games, make appeals to spend money on extras, and force extended viewing of ads.
For instance, 1 in 5 of the popular apps that were analyzed use pressure tactics, such as when the narrator of ABC Animals says, “You can play with these cute animals for a tiny fee! Ask your parents!”
An ad in the app Mr. Bullet won’t disappear until the child swipes the screen and, as the study states, “makes Santa shoot people”.
Caregiver Interaction Boosts Brain Development Not Just in COVID Babies
Along with dire findings, JAMA Pediatrics gives parents keys to improvement. Providing “cognitively stimulating activities” such as playing with non-electronic real-life objects, reading, and back-and-forth interaction with caring people leads to a child’s “optimal general ability development.”
The LENA study concludes: “These data support the hypothesis that early talk and interaction, particularly during the relatively narrow developmental window of 18 to 24 months of age, can be used to predict school-age language and cognitive outcomes.”
Speech-language pathologist Loberti sees major improvements when parents supplement what their little ones may have lacked during in the pandemic. By doing so, she says, “The changes have been phenomenal.”
Harris believes tech companies’ intentions were way off when they started Google, Facebook, and other platforms. He should know, having trained in the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab.
Since tech products could be accessed for free, users’ personal data were fair game, which companies made unprecedented sums from selling and re-selling. Individuals were hyper-targeted under the guise of “giving users what they want.”
Silicon Valley founders saw tech as a neutral vessel. That users became trapped in polarized filter bubbles was not the platforms’ problem.
The result today: the loudest and meanest social media opinions seem to be the majority. As Harris observes, “we start to believe the extreme voices and stereotypes represent the world.”
Besides political turmoil, he blames early Silicon Valley attitudes for creating problems ranging from information overload and addiction, to synthetic charlatans including bots and DeepFakes.
Over the years, it became standard practice to use psychological sleight of hand to keep users engaged.
Children have been especially affected. Since the dawn of social media, youth mental health has significantly eroded.
Spending a few minutes outdoors, chatting, and taking a nap are simple but powerful ways to fight stress, which has surged in the pandemic.
Between 2019 and 2020, stress levels of 8 in 10 adults shot upward, according to a Stress in America Harris Poll sponsored by the American Psychological Association. Family pressures have led to record levels of depression and anxiety among children, reports JAMA Pediatrics.
But neither adults nor kids need to grimace and bear it. There are lab-proven ways to cope.
Short-term versus Chronic Stress
Stress comes in two basics forms: short-term and longer-lasting, or “chronic.”
Short-term stress tends to go away. Like when your alarm goes off in the morning. You’re shocked at first, but once you get up and move on, you forget that initial jolt.
Longer-lasting stress is caused by longer-term life problems, such as financial strife or difficult relationships.
Left unchecked, stress can add up to major health problems. “When experienced over a long period of time, it has been linked with heart disease, diabetes and the spread of cancer, as well as other chronic diseases. And physiological responses can start young,” according to the journal Nature.
Yet, Nature concludes, “some people are remarkably resilient to these and other stressors.”