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Virtual Autism: A New Threat to Toddlers

Dr. Anne-Lise Ducanda manipulates toy ball

See webinar below about causes and prevention of Virtual Autism with specialist Lori Frome, M.Ed.  

Pediatricians are alarmed that babies and toddlers who spend hours a day on phones, tablets, and around TVs can develop autistic-like symptoms, in a newly-identified condition termed Virtual Autism. The good news: the symptoms of Virtual Autism often disappear when the children stop all screen exposure and switch to face-to-face contact, reading, and playing with care-givers, other children, and non-electronic toys.

Two doctors in France are leading an awareness campaign about Virtual Autism, which they explain in this video.

“Screen viewing several hours a day prevents the brain from developing and generates behavior problems and relationship problems,” reports Dr. Anne-Lise Ducanda, speaking also for colleague Dr. Isabelle Terrasse. “We decided to make this video to warn parents, professionals, and public bodies of the grave dangers of all screens for children between the ages of zero to four.”

Over the preceding five years, the doctors had noticed more and more toddlers with unusual changes in behavior. Some had stopped responding to their names, they would avoid eye contact, and had become indifferent to the world around themcharacteristics of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Others were developmentally behind for their age.

Pediatrician holds up drawings by two 4-year-olds. The drawing by the child who is on screens a lot is much less detailed than the one drawn by a child who doesn't spend much time on screens.

Drawing on left by a 4-year-old who spends little time on screen media. Drawing on right by a slightly older 4-year-old who was highly screen-exposed..

After asking parents in detail about the kids’ media use and household exposure, the doctors discovered almost all the children had spent large amounts of time on and around screens—in some cases, ten hours a day. But when the doctors had families eliminate or greatly reduce the children’s screen exposure, the ASD symptoms would almost always disappear.

Various studies in Romania have come to similar conclusions, one stating “sensory-motor and socio-affective deprivation caused by the consumption of more than 4 hours/day of virtual environment can activate behaviours and elements similar to those found in children diagnosed with ASD.”

Because this phenomenon has been so often observed in Romania, screen withdrawal there is now a therapeutic protocol for early ASD and a campaign is also underway there to inform parents about the problem.

Romanian psychologist Marius Zamfir was among the first to identify Virtual Autism. He worries about lack of motivation among children exposed to excessive screen content. “Children’s brains are used to getting pleasure without making any effort at all,” he says in this video made for the Romanian public information campaign.  

Study Proves Observable Brain Changes

A study of toddlers’ brains bears out these behavioral indicators.

Publishing their work in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have shown that the amount of white matter appears to be reduced in the brains of young children who spend more than two hours a day on screens. The brain’s white matter aids in thought processing and organization, as well as performing other vital functions.

“Think of white matter as cables, sort of like telephone lines that are connecting the various parts of the brain so they can talk to each other,” Dr. John Hutton told CNN.

“These are tracks that we know are involved with language and literacy,” he continued. “And these were the ones relatively underdeveloped in these kids with more screen time.”

47 healthy toddlers were studied. Screen exposure among them ranged from zero to about five hours a day.

In their report, the study authors did not make a connection to virtual autism nor did they specifically mention autistic-like symptoms.

Astronomical Rise in Autism Incidence

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in 1975—when VCRs first came on scene—only one in 5,000 children in the U.S. was reported to have ASD. But by 2016, video on demand had become ubiquitous and the incidence of ASD had risen to one child in 68. In late 2018, a new report based on US government health statistics showed the number may be closer to one child in every 40.

Until very recently, “AV (audio-visual) exposure in infancy has been overlooked” as a risk factor for autism, according to research ophthalmologist Karen Frankel Heffler of Drexel University College of Medicine. As she writes in the journal Medical Hypotheses, “There has been an explosion in viewing opportunities for infants over the past 25 years, which parallels the rise in autism.”

“Attention in the vulnerable infant is drawn away from healthy social interactions toward TV, computer screens, and electronic toys,” according to Heffler.

In early 2020, JAMA Pediatrics published a Drexel analysis co-authored by Heffler which found that babies who viewed TV and videos at age one had a slightly greater chance of displaying autistic-like symptoms than non-TV watching babies by the age of two. Conversely, the study found, “Less screen exposure and more parent-child play as 12 months of age were associated with fewer ASD-like symptoms at 2 years of age.”

At the first ever Children’s Screen Time Action Network conference, I happened to meet Dr. Heffler’s research associate, Lori Frome, M.Ed. Frome is an Early Interventionist who discovered, also by chance, that the symptoms in one of her ASD patients disappeared after her screen exposure was curtailed.

Frome then tried the same treatment on her own son, who also had an ASD diagnosis. In only a few screen-free months, as Frome describes in this video, her son had “a complete developmental trajectory change in the core deficits of ASD.” In other words, her son became developmentally normal for his age.

Screen media has a “very addictive power,” says Dr. Ducanda. “Little by little the child can no longer do without and demands it more and more. If the parents try and withdraw him, he can go into a real meltdown.”

Doctors Ducanda and Terrasse contend that heavy doses of screen time affect what would be, in pre-digital times, the natural wiring of a child’s brain. Watching a ball move on a screen, for instance, does not register in a child’s mind the same way it does to manipulate and throw a ball. Says Dr. Ducanda: “The small child’s brain cannot develop without this sense of touch.”

Dr. Andrew Doan, an ophthalmologist and neuroscientist, produced this animated video to show how watching screen media can rewire a child’s brain.  In this TEDx talk, I discuss the importance of parent-child Attachment and how digital devices can interfere. 

Avoiding Virtual Autism

So, what’s a parent to do? For one thing, to respect a child’s basic developmental needs. For kids to learn to speak, reason, and develop crucial social skills, they need face-to-face interaction with loving people and to use all their senses as often as they can.

A new study from Iran proves the power of parent interaction and play. Investigators selected 12 toddlers with autistic-like symptoms who had spent half their waking hours on screen devices. Their parents were then given 8 weeks of lessons in how to play with their children, with an emphasis on eye-to-eye contact, loving touch, and continuous communication. While the parents applied these lessons at home, objects that had absorbed the children’s attention were taken away, including digital devices.

At the end of the two-month period, the children’s screen time had shrunk to a bare minimum, their ASD-like repetitive behaviors were greatly reduced, and brain studies showed ASD-like readings had returned to nearly normal.

Screen time duration drops in Journal of Asian Psychiatry Study from Iran

One of the study’s chief investigators told me consistency is the key. For the intervention to work, the parents had to stick with high-touch, high-talk interaction all day every day during the children’s waking hours. He says researchers can now confidently recommend that children under age three should spend their time playing and interacting face-to-face with caring adults and not using digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that babies and toddlers need to spend full time exploring their world without interruption by screens, except for the occasional Facetime with Grandma. Preschoolers shouldn’t have more than one hour of screen time a day “to allow children ample time to engage in other activities important to their health and development,” says the AAP.

The World Health Organization says, for the sake of their health and proper brain formation, children under age one should have no exposure to screens.

Life Balance Guidelines for Infants from the World Health Organization

World Health Organization Infant Guidelines (Under Age One)

Early Childhood is a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

When you look through Today’s lens, early childhood has become a rarified, once-in-a-lifetime pre-digital opportunity. As I write in The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital Age, each child begins life as a “wild human”—as free and unplugged as any other animal.

“When toddlers range around, freely using all of their senses to examine, taste and play with whatever they choose, they are making rich and lifelong neural connections.”

Boy playing outside with toy trucks

So kids can stay on a healthy developmental track, experts including Dr. Ducanda and Lori Frome recommend that you:

  • Talk and read with your child every day as much as possible
  • Provide materials, toys, and games that require manipulation, such as a play dough, finger paints, and a play kitchen
  • Go outside at least once a day and make sure the child has time to play alone and with other children
  • Not use screens when you are with children
  • Not hand a phone to your baby or young child (and keep the screen locked, just in case)
  • Keep the TV off around kids under age four, even if the child doesn’t seem to be paying attention to what’s on the screen
  • Explain to family members and caregivers why these measures are essential to a child’s healthy development, durability, and well-being

Great grandfather plays on floor with great grandson

As Dr. Heffler points out in her research, autism-like characteristics that develop in very young children can have a variety of causes. Still, if symptoms do arise, Dr. Ducanda and her colleagues recommend keeping the child away from all screens for at least a month, which will require the cooperation of every household member. If that can be accomplished, she claims, the child’s ASD-like problems will likely “miraculously disappear or diminish considerably.”

Conversely, if a child has a full, well-balanced life with minimal time on screens, the symptoms may never emerge.

Virtual Autism Resources

This site has links to Virtual Autism research and researchers.  

Watch the webinar with Lori Frome M. Ed. who explains how to detect, treat, and avoid Virtual Autism: 

Download Lori Frome’s specially-curated Parent Resource List from the box on this page.

Finally, in this simple on-line course, I teach parents why and how to create loving bonds with their babies and toddlers as well as to maximize their brain development and language learning.

About the author:

Besides being the mom of three practicing durable humans, DurableHuman.com founder Jenifer Joy Madden is a certified digital wellness instructor, health journalist, digital media adjunct professor, and author of How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design and The Durable Human Manifesto.

Her work has informed millions on ABC News and Discovery Health Channel, in The Washington Post, Readers Digest and other news outlets.

84 thoughts on “Virtual Autism: A New Threat to Toddlers

  1. one girl child now she aged 25 month. she start to see mobile screen at age 9 month upto 2 hour per day and increase every day now at age of 24 month it become to see on tv and mobile is near 7-10 hour per day, now at age of 25 month come to know autism , so question is
    (1) is it due to constant seeing of tv screen like rhyme etc
    (2) is it curable ? or how recovery we get?

    1. Thank you very much for sharing this about your daughter. Though this is a brand new field of study, it is true that some doctors in the U.S. and other countries see that little children who watch hours per day of TV, YouTube, and other screen media can start having autistic-like symptoms. These doctors also see that when a child with these symptoms STOPS using or being around ANY screens and STARTS playing with toys and other children and reading books and talking to and playing a lot with parents, siblings and other caregivers, the autistic-like behaviors get much less or even go away. It only seems to take a few weeks after they stop being on or around screens that they return to being normal curious, lively little kids. A great book you can read about this is Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley. M.D.. You can also visit this website: https://esmautism.wixsite.com/website. Doctors studying this problem advise that if your child does stop being around any screens for a month and there is very little or no reduction in autistic-like symptoms, it is probably time to see a specialist in Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you’d like to talk directly with an expert knowledgeable about “Virtual Autism”, please let me know and I will put you in touch.

        1. Please be sure to see the comment made July 3, 2020, by Virtual Autism treatment expert, Lori Frome. I’m sure she will answer an email from you. She very much wants to help.

      1. Definitely, it is by screen as we have experienced in our own child who looked u tube since 6 month and have repetitive behaviour, hpyeractivity and speach delay but after 2 years we stop screen because he has developed ASD like symtoms but we was guided by a Therapist from Pakistan channel named “step to learn’ who guid us properly through whtasapp and our son has improved so much now so its defiantly curable

        1. Hiii…hope ur child is doing well…can I have ur contact (email) please….looking help for my child…thank you

          1. Please download the Virtual Autism resource page to get Lori Frome’s contact info. Also, please read through the post and read the comments. Lots of good info there!

    1. Thank you for reaching out. I talked to a Virtual Autism expert about your questions. She replied that how quickly a 21-month-old responds depends on several factors such as first screen exposure, amount of screen exposure, whether content has been viewed repetitively, and how much social interaction the child is getting on a daily basis. She adds that a child generally starts showing signs of social development such as improved eye contact and desire to be closer to care givers within the first month of complete screen removal and high social interaction in the second month. If you would like to contact the expert directly, please send your request along with a contact email address to info@durablehuman.com.

      1. Hi can u please tell me after how much time I can hope to see improvement in 30months old with 7hours screen exposure in this lock down era with no contact to peers or even outsiders at all.

        1. Hi, Richa. Glad to hear from you. Do you plan to stop your little one from looking at screens (large and small), whether in lockdown or not? If not, her behavior is unlikely to change. If so, screen time should be substituted with lots of face-to-face time and talking, reading, and playing with you and other loving people like older siblings/relatives, playing with 3-D open-ended toys like blocks, and going outside for more play and fresh air. You can also check out my course on managing toddler parenthood without resorting to digital devices at https://durablehuman.com/babybrain. Next course starts on October 29, 2020.

          1. Hey thanx for ur support..we stopped her screen time completely for a month..n definitely improvements are there..she is having better eye contact and wants to go out of home..we took her for 3days outing to kids of her age and guess what some of her words she spoke earlier came back..though we are waiting for more improvement in her speech coz she used to speak sentences prior to lock down..also I would like to know that she responds to her name when she isn’t busy with something or she repeats her name when we call her

            How can I correct this??

          1. Hello, Mohit. I see you are looking for help for your 3-year-old son. I recommend a webinar with Lori Frome, M.Ed. She has lots of great information and good examples of children whose autistic-like symptoms improved when they stopped using screens and started 6-8 hours of daily eye-to-eye interaction, play and reading with parents and other caregivers. See the webinar: Virtual Autism Webinar

  2. Hallo
    My 9 year old son was diagnosed first with ADHD at 6, then ADD with autistic tendencies st age 7. He has watched tv from a young age. I used it to help him learn English which is my native language but we live in Germany. That was successful he is bilingual but I wonder a lot of I made a big mistake with the screen time. He started playing video games a few months ago and he developed big problems in school and became aggressive at home. He has hit me and his dad and thrown things. On one occasion he ran away. This is sudden and new behaviour and we were shocked. We stopped the video games completely and have now stopped tv too. His rages haven’t changed and he is so
    angry at us. He tells me everyday he hates me and I am ruining his life. It’s a very hard time. Are extreme reactions to screen time bans normal?

    1. Thank you for taking the time to get in touch about your son’s behavior. In short, the answer is Yes—it can be very difficult for a child to cope with new limits on screen media use, but research shows most children will adjust within a few weeks.
      To help you with this challenging quest, several experts I consulted suggest you read an outstanding book by psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley, M.D.: Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. Dr. Dunckley has tips to help you prepare all members of the household for a 4-week break from screen use.: https://amzn.to/2TkU614
      To help you understand the effects of media viewing in early childhood, watch this TEDx talk by pediatric researcher Dimitri Christakis, M.D.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo&feature=youtu.be

      You might also want to take the Durable U online course for new (and renewing) parents which explains how and why to help your son have a more 3-D, 360-degree full-sensory childhood. The course also suggests easy ways parents can contain their own screen media use so they spend more time talking to, listening to, and playing with their children, who are in such need of their eye contact and attention. See: https://durablehuman.com/DurableU.
      Finally, if you would like to be referred to a counselor specializing in this area, please email your request to info@durablehuman.com. Wishing you the best of luck as you educate yourself in this area. Please write back if you have more questions.

  3. Hi,

    My only daughter who is now 30 months , shows most of the autistic symptoms. She watched TV and other screens while she was only 6 months of age. After the negative feedback from her Preschool about her attention , concentration and social skill, we consulted doctor and diagnosed her with ASD features. She watched on average of 6 hours of screen till date. One of the doctor even said it is induced from screen exposure and will be completely curable.

    How much time will take for her to recover and the symptoms to be disappeared ?

    1. It sounds like your daughter is on the road to recovery! Since The Durable Human cannot give specific medical advice, we suggest asking your doctor how long he or she expects it will take for the autistic-like symptoms to subside. You could also consult “Reset Your Child’s Brain” , a book on the subject by Victoria Dunckley, M.D.

  4. Hi. My son who is 35 months old showing many autistic symptoms . He used to watch cartoons and videos in TV from the age of 1 year( more than 5 hour). Now after stopping all screen time before 1 month and sending him a preschool brought change in eye contact and response when calling his name etc . He spoke a 2 word sentence in last day. Apart from that he didn’t speak anything like that before. Only words he learnt from videos he used to tell us and meaningless language. What can I expect in future? He has got a speech therapist at his preschool aswell

    1. Thank you for sharing the information about your son. It appears he is improving now that you have stopped screen exposure and started speech therapy. Language delay is a typical symptom of early screen overuse. With continued speech help and your resolve to have him keep playing, talking, and reading with you and others should keep him on a healthy trajectory!

    2. Hello.My daughter is also suffering from the same problems. She is 27 months old and have watched rhymes since she was 9 months old. She speaks meaningless language doesn’t responds to her name and says only those words which she has grasped from rhymes. 2 weeks before we have stopped her screen fully. I would like to seek advice from you to improve her communication skills. Could you please share the changes you are watching and seeing in your child.

  5. My daughter is diagnosed with mild autism at 30 months. She used to watch her rhymes on laptop and also get less maternal attention due to research work, so we started speech therapy, now she is 34 months, there is no screen time from two months, her eye contact has improved but speech is not much improved, what to do.

  6. Hello,

    I have twin boys who have just turned 3, both diagnosed with autism very early, before age 2.

    No one has specifically mentioned screen time to me beyond the usual vague stuff about limiting all children’s screen time, because it’s generally regarded to be unhealthy. No one we have seen has placed any extra emphasis at all on reducing screen time. Or even asked us about it.

    We showed them screens from a young age. With twins, we were worried about them being bored and lacking stimulation. We don’t have much family, and so couldn’t give both boys constant attention. As such we actually made an effort to find them TV shows they responded to, that they could enjoy while sitting in their bouncer chairs.

    Looking back this is clearly the worst thing we could’ve done and I believe it has affected them.

    At the time I didn’t think their development was being affected. A lack of speech and eye contact didn’t bother me as I didn’t know any different, I just thought they were normal. Until my wife invited round another friend of hers with twins of the same age and I was shocked at the level of eye contact and interest the children showed in adults.

    We didn’t at first put our boys into nursery, as my wife doesn’t work and I work from home. So we didn’t think we needed it. But the result is, our boys wouldn’t get to go outside much and watched a lot of TV. Easily more than six hours a day.

    About eight months ago they started going to nursery and we have made effort to do more, and they both make more eye contact and like playing and listening to us read books, but they’re still not talking and we still haven’t managed to not have the TV on in the background for comfort.

    At this point, after reading about this subject, I do believe my boys’ type of autism is in line with the ‘Virtual’ type that is caused by screens. And the fact my boys are making more and more eye contact and don’t seem to have the really withdrawn type of autism found in more severe cases, leads me to believe it’s the screens that have caused this.

    From what I am describing, would you agree? Or am I kidding myself and looking for easy answers? I am going to shut off screens and make all the effort I can to play and socialise with them. Hopefully it will work and they will finally be able to speak to me. I want nothing more in the world right now than to hear their voices.

    1. My brother, my son situation is exactly the same as you have describe urs.
      I hope they doing well and talking now.
      Please let’s hear from you how they are doing to give us some hope
      Thank you

      1. @Anna Just so you know, research is continuing around the world to identify and treat children who may be suffering from Virtual Autism. If you’re worried about your own child, do you want to talk to someone who can help?

        1. I have the same situation and i have 1 month with no tv and it looks improvement in eye contact and startit babbling mam dad again because he did these but he stopped. but i am afraid if these is it.I don’t know if he will continue his improvement.

          1. Hi @Anna. Helping children who may be suffering from Virtual Autism takes more than simply removing the child from screens. Intense interaction with you and other caregivers is also crucially important. Who you like to be put in touch with an expert who can talk to you about it?

        2. I am in Albania.I have put him in kindergarten and i am looking for an expert to take him.But i would like to know if he will be ok.Will he turn back when i coll him?I am very worried.

    2. Hi I have a daughter that is almost 20 months old. At her 18 month check up with her pediatrician he told me that he had some concerns about her possibly being autistic and it came as a complete shock to me and my husband because we never noticed anything about her up until he mentioned it. So I started googling like crazy and found this page a little over a month ago and immediately did a screen fast on her to see if her eye contact would improve and can’t believe it I was so nervous because she has always been such a happy girl and very smart started saying dada mama nana yea yea so early even waving bye bye had stopped doing a lot of those things now after a little over a month she is starting to notice when we leave the room or if someone is leaving the house coming in and her eye contact is Atleast 60% better and I loved reading everyone’s story about their kids!! You guys have given our family so much hope and I just wanted to say thank you so much for having this page up and I can’t wait to post on here again after I notice even more improvements. 1 thing that I have noticed is my daughter seems to be so shy with kids. Not sure if it’s from not really being around them she doesn’t make eye contact very well with them but with adults she looks at everyone when we are at the park and smiles even. Is this because of the pandemic and not being exposed at a young age to many kids? I watch videos from when she was younger and would play with her cousin and so much more eye contact with him then vs now.

      1. Hello Sarah,
        Thank you so much for commenting on your story and your daughter’s progress when you turned off the digital screen media and greatly increased your social interactions with her. I would say in response to your question about how to help her play with others at this time…I would recommend to SHOW her how to play. Get on the ground with her and her cousin and follow their lead. This means you would first want to watch what they are doing and see how each one is responding. Then become part of the play following her cousin’s lead by asking…”Which toy can I play with?” and allow him to tell you or even show you how he wants you to play with him. I would try to do this while having your daughter sit on your lap and after you have had a turn playing, I would encourage you to offer her the toy to do the same. I would also recommend that if play with others is not coming natural at this point, which means even playing beside her cousin in a form of parallel play- playing close together and observing each other’s play, but not necessarily interacting with each other then you would definitely want to teach in this way by positioning yourself to be part of the play.
        This is also important to do with her at home between the two of you, playing with her on the floor and following her lead. Please continue to keep us posted! So happy for your daughter’s positive steps in development:)

  7. Screen time fasting which is recommended by Dr Victoria Dunnkley helped my kids recover better.
    I have 7 year old twins diagnosed with combination of developmental delays ADHD,SPD, speech delay and one was on ASD, but not anymore. Two years ago I put them on the Nemechek Protocol which has worked great for us BUT to a certain degree, not completely, not without screen time fast. The progress was going on slowly but some of the symptoms were coming back such us stimming, which meant anxiety. The speech improved, eye contact improved, SPD improved (they are not sensitive to certain sounds anymore and I can even cut their hair without problem). Also meltdowns decreased, anger decreased , stimming was gone 90%, hyperactivity decreased and attention improved so they can sit down and do their school work. But still there was a missing link as I said above. About a year ago we did evaluation, and psychologist advised us to remove all the screens and not to let kids watch even educational videos. I agreed and we did that. I was surprised to see that stimming was gone 100%, no stimming was present. But, after two months occupational therapist started giving them as an AWARD to watch the videos on her phone. Later I found out this type of award is part of ABA method. At first I was not aware of those awards, she told me later. I still did not know of all these researches about screen time and I was only following advise of psychologist. At that time speech therapist also encouraged us to let kids watch educational videos because it is needed for their language development and learning… Ok, I let the kids watch tv again and guess what? The stimming came back. I still did not know of the research and I have not read Dr Victoria’s book. I was wondering for months why the stimming came back. Because they were still on the Nemechek Protocol, I was blaming the quality of omega 3, then maybe it’s olive oil, maybe this,maybe that… Until, we moved…No tv, no computer… Kids changed, they became different,more social, they were playing, they did not have as many meltdowns as before, speech improved, stimming still present, but it is more out of habit, I don’t see anxiety. I was wondering what happened. I started researching about whether screen time has any connections with behavior and found out about virtual autism and I have read the book that was mentioned “Reset your child’s brain”. Kids are still screen time free and still on the Nemechek Protocol which helps their body and brain to better recover and they continue to improve in all areas cognitively, socially, learning quicky, vocabulary is much richer… I can’t thank enough Dr. Victoria Dunkley and Dr Patrick Nemechek for giving me hope that my kids can recover, and they are recovering with few simple changes. Many parents give up on the Nemechek Protocol because they think it is not working. It is working, but you need to remove screens as well and both methods will work much better and the brain will recover much faster. Thank you for writing articles such as this to bring awareness of dangers of screen time!

    1. Wow – what a wonderful testimonial to how removing screens can make a life-changing difference. It is interesting to note that, at least in your situation, addressing the child’s microbiome through the Nemechek Protocol only went so far. You point out the difficulty of staying on top of all the opportunities your twins have to use screens. You don’t necessarily suspect the therapists themselves (inadvertently and with no harm intended) are to blame! Have you developed any strategies for speaking with all folks in contact with your kids about this issue? Probably a good idea to get it out in the open with everyone.

      1. Yes, I did tell the therapists to discontinue those awards, but I had to repeat several times. If I can survive with two hyper kids without wifi, tv, smartphone and tablet, they can, too 🙂
        Regarding the Nemechek Protocol, it does work truly. It is really difficult to go through all the stages of recovery, but it is worth. My kids in two years on the protocol went from non verbal to verbal, one is on the level of his age, the other is behind but he can speak in short sentences. I stayed out of support groups, because for short period being in one of those groups I realized there is barely support present and there are a lot of people coming into groups who discourage others, suggest other supplements, and treatments. The Protocol addresses not only microbiome but also inflammation within body which allows recovery. It works slowly as I said, but hey, what’s few years comparing to whole life if you’ll get functional child who can later take care of himself.
        All the best.

      1. Hi,
        Thanks for asking. They are doing well. Improving in so many areas. They still don’t have screen time, although we did try few months ago to let them watch cartoons to test them, and it did not turn out well, even though it was for two days. They are certainly photosensitive to videos.
        Regarding the Nemechek Protocol, kids are still on it.

        1. Good to hear!!! This gives me so much hope. I started the protocol too. It’s been a month. My daughter is doing well, she started pointing but not very consistent. Still trying to figure out the right dose for her. I stopped screen time compltely. Stimming reduced almost completely but she didn’t stimm that much to start with. Good changes so far. You said both your boys were non verbal?

    2. While I was doing a research about my Sister’s child 3 yo who we diagnosed with ASD at 18 months but we knew that it’s was screen because he was exposed since the first months of his life until one we could not say it was vaccins because we never paid attention on him because he was only on tv but before one month we remember he was smiling and making eye contact and bubbling when we stopped tv, he could sleep well, but he developed a chronic constipation at 4 months when we introduced him on solid food until today he’s 3. We tried biomedical protocol but didn’t work but we know we let him still exposed on the screen, homeopathy didn’t work and now we are on 2 weeks Nemecheck protocol and we still observing but thank because We gonna remove screen and see what Np will bring to him.

  8. My two and half year old daughter sing rhymes only and doesn’t communicate with us. She is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder which is hard for me to believe. She is very smart in other activities. She started watching rhymes at early age of 6 months and continued till two years.after reading this articles I suspect she is also victim of virtual autism. Please help us to know more about this and let me know the recovery chances.

    1. Thank you for writing. You’ve detected your daughter may have a problem at a good time when it still could be reversible. It won’t hurt and probably will greatly help to stop use of all screens in the household when your child is present and have as much face to face contact and play with her as possible. I’m happy to put you in direct touch with a specialist if you send me your email. In the meantime, here is some more info: https://esmautism.wixsite.com/website. Thanks again for reaching out.

    1. Hi Emma. I am going through the same situation but after completely cutting down the screen time have seen lots of improvement in my daughter. its been 3 months, her eye contact is improving, she is responding to her name 50% of the time, taking commands, speaking lots of new words although she has not attained that much of expressive language yet but i am hopeful that soon she will be talking like her peers. U just need to hv patience and stimulate ur child as much as u can.. if child is having sensory issues u can also take help from OT for sensory integration.

  9. Please feel free to reach out if anyone needs help. I am a Master’s Level M.Ed virtual autism specialist and have worked with families all over the world and in research studying this protocol with an American University.
    If you feel you can relate to this I can help you. I am also a parent of a child that suffered with virtual autism and had an optimal outcome at age 4.5 after starting at age 3.5. I unknowingly exposed him to between 4-6 hours of screen time a day due to suffering PPD.
    Our story is presented to a large group of military providers for young children with ASD below.
    Please know this is a message of HOPE if your child was exposed to over two hours of screens before the age of 2 and is 5 years old or younger, they may be able to benefit from this protocol for what is known as virtual autism like my son, Max.
    “When we know better we do better!” If you have ASD, this in no way takes away from your unique and special way that God created you and I greatly you support you too…some of my best friends are autistics. I share because I DEEPLY CARE…MY LIFE’s PASSION AND WORK. (Please watch link before contacting me…thank you!)

      1. Hi Zizi,
        Thank you for your question to my son’s story. I’m always open to sharing how removing all screen media and immersing my son in social attention from me and others of importance changed his developmental trajectory for the positive. I feel extremely blessed to have had these results with him and to see other families having similar responses with their own children when trying these techniques that are research based to be essential to overall positive developmental outcomes for early childhood.
        Zizi- my son was talking at 3.5 years of age when we started, but he was only combining some repetitive two word phrases together in a robotic tone. He was not on target for his chronological age and at 3.5 years old was only talking as much as a 20 month old. This was a severe delay. His delay was only getting greater as he got older and it was really hard as a mother to watch. If I can be of further help I am a virtual autism therapist and researcher on the topic and would be glad to chat with you over email as stated in this post above. Lfrome@me.com

  10. Dear,

    I am from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I have a cute baby boy, aged about 1 year 10 months. Recently we observed that my baby is not responding well when we calling him by his name. Then we took a visit of Prof. Dr. Pran Gopal Datta and others. They told that my baby is suffering from enlarged adenoid, Iron deficiency Anemia, vitamin D deficiency, cold which is last for more than two months and also suspects suffering from mild Autism. They recommended for some tests. His hearing tests were normal.

    Please note that my baby was used to watching cartoons on TV screen too much. His eye contact is absolutely ok. He just able to talk two words only i.e. TATA AND BABA.

    Shall be greatful, if anyone give me your valuable opinion, what should I do for my baby?

    1. Thank you for writing. I am sorry to hear your son is not progressing as well as you had expected. If you feel he has spent too much time engaging with screen-based activities, please see the post for what to do, starting with keeping all screens off when he is awake and spending as much talking, playing and reading with him as you can. Open-ended playthings like blocks are the best, as is going outside to play with you and other children. In order to set up your household for success, I suggest reading Dr. Dunckley’s book, Reset Your Child’s Brain, which you can find here: https://amzn.to/36tx3FS. You may also want to share the Virtual Autism post with your healthcare providers who may not yet be aware of the condition. Wishing you the best of luck. Awareness of a problem is the first step toward solving it!

  11. Hi Everyone, I see from the comments most of you stopped screen time. I stopped screen time a few days ago on my 35 month old who had 6-7hrs of screen since 6 months and would kindly love to here how your kids are progressing after you stopped screen time and engaged them more so I can better know what to expect.

  12. Hi everyone
    1 year ago i write here and i desperately wanted any answers from parent in the same situations. So now I want to teal you about my son. 1 year ago 1 year old he didn’t have eye contact, didn’t answer to his name enda other things. I left him to much in TV since he was 6 months. Now 1 year after i take of tv and telephone and took him in kindergarten ,afer kindergarten i go out and play and when i go home i play and speak a lot , read books.Now he do everything and started speaking too. You have to know that these didn’t start in 1 month these take time. It took 4 months for him to have eye contact 6 months to respond to his name…

    1. Thank you for reporting back on your son’s progress! It is so important for people to hear that, although it takes time and sincere diligent effort, it WORKS to substitute screen time with play and reading and talking so children have lots of face to face communication, 3-dimensional movement, and use all their senses (not just the small amount of brain, sensory, and muscle power they need to view a screen.)

    2. It’s so great hearing this. Your testimony is more realistic. I have seen tremendous difference in my two yr old after I cut off TV and screens completely. Her attention and skill in solving puzzles and playing correctly with her toys has improved a lot. She also started pointing. And BTW I started her with gfcf diet . I believe cutting sugar also helps with hyperactivity along with gfcf. Good luck to you. Hope to hear updates soon.

  13. I have been preaching this for over 5 years now since my nephew was diagnosed as autistic. He was a very bright baby and was starting to say a few words but stopped and has never talked. His pediatrician told my brother and his wife that screen time was ok as long as it was less than an hour. I kept telling them that screen time is not ok and they should allow it until 5years of age, but their response was “your not the doctor.” So now my nephew is 5 and doesn’t speak everything else seems normal to me! I’ve also seen this happen to my coworkers who have had kids and have allowed their baby’s to watch tv and play with tablets at earliest age possible. Now their kids don’t talk either. Ive asked them if their pediatrician had told them about no screen time and unfortunately they all are clueless. Its is very sad that some pediatricians are just as clueless as the poor parents and they put all their trust in these incompetent pediatricians. No wonder the rate of autism is so high! I wish my brother and his wife had listened to me but I’m urging them to sue the dumb ass pediatrician before more innocent parents and babies are hurt!

    1. Thank you for writing in, Michael. It is so important for people to hear your story. I will inquire about about what the American Academy of Pediatrics is telling its members about screen use. They need to more explicitly tie babies and toddlers screen use with slowed (or stopped) language development and altered brain development.

  14. Hi.i am from India.My boy when he was 14monts we gave him Android pH for watching you tube.Afterwatds it was his habit .He watched 6to 10 per day even his sleep time.He was very intelligent .He said word jesturing even some sentences.There was nothing any problem.when he entered 22months of age he became like non verbal,not responding to name,no eye contact,not want to sleep,repetitive behaviour ,flapping .We evaluated one psychraitist who told me that he is autistic.But when I have knew about virtual autism we stopped mobile to him and keep face to face talking and playing with him.After stopping for 2months he now started to give eye contact and his sleep is improved.secondly he said some lost word and comfortable with us.Is it virtual autism?I m confused.

  15. Hello! First let me congratulate you on stopping electronic screen media such as tablets, smart phones, television, DVD’s etc for your child. These devices are not recommended for early childhood because they fall far short in the child’s ability to learn from them than a human caregiver whom he loves like You! Our children’s brains are naturally built off of our own and what we choose to provide them within the environment for stimulation as we interact with them. Your son’s case seems similar to that of my son in which my son definitely responded to the treatment for virtual autism. These predisposing factors are that your child had over 2 hours of screens a day before the age of 3 years old which caused less time for social interaction and is also showing autistic like symptoms and is responding positively when the screens are removed. That is what we consider the “test” on if your child would be a candidate for virtual autism. What I must stress, is that you now need to also BE with your child just as much to fill in the time that he is away from the screens. This would mean to be playing on the floor with him and involving him in routines and chores to the greatest extent. When you can’t be with him socially, I encourage you to find someone else that you trust to take over while you have a break and keep him socially interacting with someone as much as possible. The social and communicative deficits of ASD in young children are their greatest weaknesses and when you can spend large amounts of time with them working on these areas while they are still young, you are bound to see the greatest gains as their brain is still highly developing daily to the positives you are pouring into it with love. Please play and interact with your child in a loving natural way 6-8 hours a day. Seek any therapies that may also be recommended by your doctor to be beneficial and keep believing that you will make a HUGE difference in the life of your child for the positive!

    1. Hi Lori, I came here from the video where you have shared your own experience. My baby falls under the spectrum and he has been addicted to screens right from age one. He is turning three in the next month. But we suspected him, not being responsive around 2.5 years old and for the past two months we had completely cut off screen. But unlike your kid or few other kids, he wasn’t talking and was completely non-verbal earlier as well (May be because he was glued to the screen from year one itself). I could see very few minute differences now, like the spinning has stopped. But still he hasn’t started talking or doesn’t respond to his name. We are a bit worried as all the testimonials kinda say that, they were able to see considerable changes after cutting screens in one month itself. Do you think he doesn’t fall under virtual autism? Is there anyway we can distinguish?

      1. Hello Priya,
        Thank you so much for reaching out. I want to commend you for researching ways you can help your son with his autism diagnosis and remediate the symptoms to help his development. That is a very proactive mother. With that said, I would encourage you to please not give up hope. I have a few questions for you…
        1) Were all digital screens removed: TV, tablets, smart phones, and all background adult screen media that would be in his view?
        2) Did you remove unnecessary background noise that could inhibit his attention to people and things in his environment such as the radio?
        3) Did you remove any light up and sound electronic toys?
        4) MOST IMPORTANTLY- have you been engaging him constantly as much as possible on one to one play and involvement in daily routines? About 6-8 hours a day. This would mean playing with him on the floor, involving him with helping you with simple chores, playing with him outside, and making him part of your everyday experiences by talking to him about what you both are doing?
        I would love to hear your responses to those questions and that you so much for sharing your story and experiences.
        With Much Continued Hope,

  16. Wonderful article on an important subject. I have experienced a large number of children on Autism Spectrum Disorder, majority of them fall in regressive type which is explained here as “Virtual Autism”. A classic type of autism and regressive/ virtual both have same symptoms but the children on later type have more recovery chances if addressed timely in right way and with consistency. Treatment details may be found on YouTube channel:

    1. Thank you for writing and your interest. You have many videos on your YouTube channel. Is there one in particular where you are treating regressive/virtual autism? Many parents are interested in specifics for how to treat the condition.

    2. Hello, Umair Bin Tahir,
      Thank you for sharing your findings and YouTube Channel. I too am curious as to what video you are referencing to on your channel as well. Please let us know specifically if there is a single video you are referring to or specific interventions you have tried that you find helpful for families affected by virtual autism that appears as classical or regressive type.
      In my professional experience as a virtual autism interventionist, I have found cases of virtual autism in which there didn’t appear to be regression and those cases usually begin with screen viewing before 6 months of age for 2 or more hours a day, with 4 or more hours before 6 months of age being the majority of cases in which the child appears to have always been affected by autism and has not had a period where they gained and then lost skills. The children who begin viewing after 6 months in my clinical experience for 2-4 or more hours of digital screen media are those that often appear with regressive type autism. It appears possible that the original and typical patterns of development had most likely started before screen viewing took place for a high number of hours throughout the day consistently.
      As parents and clinicians we always want to remember it is what the child’s brain becomes programmed to through repeated exposure over time that effects how the brain builds connectivity to its environment based on the research we have on child development and neuroplasticity. So if the child is only exposed to this type of high amounts of screen media for a week or so, there is less chance of damage as long as the high amounts of social interaction and low/or no screen media resume after this short time. (I am definitely not recommending doing this to a child) It is children who begin watching after 6 months with consistently high rates of exposure that we have noticed the regressive type of autism for the clinicians, researchers and families with whom I have worked . The most wonderful thing about this topic of virtual autism, is that if there is high screen exposure of 2 hours or more a day the first three years of life, which would also include less or lower amounts of social interaction with the child due to there only being so many hours of awake time in a young child’s day, the protocol of removing the screens and engaging the child in floor play, involving them in routines, reading, playing with them outside, and getting them the speech, occupational or other therapies that they need while focusing on eye contact and bonding…has been very beneficial and much developmental progress can be made in much shorter time periods than if the screens were not removed and this approach was not taken. Removing screens and increasing social interaction with a child having these precursors to development that is showing signs of autism or for those already diagnosed with ASD tend to greatly help those affected per family and therapist report.

  17. Hello, sorry, trying to decipher some comments. So is it safe to say that majority of “virtual autism” diagnosis was applied to kids who never acquired any skill snd didn’t regress? Or did you see those cases as well?

    1. Hello Dmama77-
      Virtual Autism is ultimately believed to be caused by two things based on the research that has currently been done on the subject and that which is in progress.
      The definition truly involves a type of autism that mimics classical autism and that the child is being exposed to more than 2 hours of screen time a day consistently before the age of three AND due to the large amounts of screen time or other environmental factors the child also had decreased social interaction with others.
      This being said, we have witnessed children with this profile fit into two categories but both have these same predetermining factors to meet the criteria mentioned above for virtual autism.
      1) The child watched more than 2 hours of screen media within the very first few months of life consistently and had decreased social interaction- this profile either looks like the child is gaining skills till about 12-15 months and then back slides, or makes it makes it look like the child has always had slower development and/or then eventual red flags for ASD.
      2) If a child became exposed to high screen time after 7 months of age with decreased social interaction it tends to mimic a case of classical regressive autism where the child was developing typically and then started regressing between 18 to 30 months or more depending on the amount of screen time and the parent’s or physician’s awareness of the delays and symptoms of ASD the child is displaying.
      I hope this answer’s your questions. Thank you for your interest.

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