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(Kashmir) UNICEF: 2.3% of kids have "VIRTUAL AUTISM"; "excessive use of screens"

Jan 23, 2024, ETV Bharat: Surge In Virtual Autism Cases Among Kashmiri Children Raises Concerns

According to a study conducted by the Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre (CGWC) of the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) Srinagar, as many as 189 diagnosed cases of virtual autism among children were recorded from 2019 to 2021.

Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir): The shift in the classwork from physical to online mode owing to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in the virtual autism cases in Kashmir, a study by a leading mental health institute in Kashmir has revealed. The Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre (CGWC) under the banner of Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), located in SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, has reported a significant rise in virtual autism cases among children in the region.

The concerning trend is attributed to the shift to online learning and increased screen time during the pandemic, shedding light on the potential impact of extended digital exposure on the neurodevelopment of Kashmiri children. According to data provided by the CGWC-IMHANS, the center has documented 189 diagnosed cases of autistic children from 2019 to 2021.

In 2022, 75 new cases were registered, and in 2023, 78 new cases were reported. This surge in cases over the last few years underscores the urgent need for understanding and addressing the impact of virtual autism on the young population in Kashmir.

What is virtual autism: Virtual autism is a term used to describe a condition believed to manifest in children under the age of three due to prolonged exposure to screens.
The disorder exhibits symptoms resembling traditional autism. Doctors have noted that approximately 50 to 60 percent of the reported cases in the last two years have displayed signs of virtual autism, primarily observed in nuclear families where both parents are working.
Causal factors: The excessive use of screens, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and television, has been identified as a significant risk factor for virtual autism in toddlers.

The prevalence of this condition is further exacerbated by limited real-world interactions and insufficient physical play, particularly in the context of nuclear families.

A report sponsored by UNICEF, based on research conducted by CGWC-IMHANS, highlights that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is approximately 2.34 percent among children aged four to six years in the Kashmir valley. The data emphasize the need for targeted interventions and awareness campaigns to address the growing concern of virtual autism in the region.

Medical experts are calling for collaborative efforts between healthcare professionals, educators, and parents to devise strategies that balance the benefits of technology with the potential risks it poses to young children's neurodevelopment. The findings from the CGWC-IMHANS report serves as a wake-up call for authorities and parents alike to prioritize holistic development and mental well-being in the face of evolving digital landscapes.


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