Virtual Autism – How To Deal With It

Virtual Autism – How To Deal With It

Our Team - Prayatna Centre for Child Development - Nivedita Varma

Written by

Nivedita Varma, BOT
Occupational Therapist

Just like a moth drawn to light, humans are drawn to screens. Today, screens have become an integral part of our everyday life. We consume so much digital content these days that we sometimes forget the harmful effects of excessive screen exposure. Children spend hours in front of the screen; they need it during mealtime and even on the toilet. Infants and children can become so fixated on these screens that its detrimental effects on their brain development may result in kids showing characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

So, is virtual autism the same as autism spectrum disorder? The answer to this lies in knowing what virtual autism is.

What is Virtual Autism?

The virtual world is not real. You can see it and hear it, but you cannot feel or touch it. 

Kids learn by exploring their environment by touching, smelling, moving, tasting, seeing, and hearing all the different things surrounding them. When constantly exposed to gadgets, kids will not be able to learn things about the real world.

Virtual autism is a condition that occurs when young children below the age of two are excessively exposed to screens which leads to ASD-like symptoms. Kids who are over-exposed to screen time on TV, tablets, laptops, and mobile phones below the age of three face communication problems and often show behaviour oddities.

 Since virtual autism and ASD have similar characteristics, how do you identify whether a child has virtual autism or not? 

virtual autism

How do you identify virtual autism? How is virtual autism diagnosed?

Virtual autism occurs solely due to overexposure of the child to screens. Pulling them away from the solitude of their screens may resolve the symptoms, suggesting that the child has “virtual autism”. This is the main identificatory factor of virtual autism.

Virtual autism doesn’t mean that your child is autistic, but it means that your child shows autism-like features.

Disorders are part of or closely related to Autism.  Each Autism related disorders has a set of symptoms which overlap with those of autism, but some that are specific to it. 


Symptoms of Virtual Autism:

these are the signs and symptoms of virtual autism


Early signs

Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Toddlers

  • Limited eye contact
  • Prefers solitary play
  • Imitating words or actions
  • proves to be challenging.
  • Inability to wave goodbye
  • Repetitive use of words
  • Lack of pointing gestures
  • Restricted imaginative play
  • Flapping the hands and
  • spinning around
  • Delays in developmental milestones

Suggested Reading: High-functioning Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Does virtual autism go away?

The symptoms of virtual autism often disappear when screen exposure is stopped. A significant improvement can be observed in the child’s cognition, hyperactivity, and irritability levels.

What causes virtual autism?

Virtual autism is caused due to prolonged exposure of children to screens like phones, tablets, television, computers, and laptops.

How to cure virtual autism?

Virtual autism can be prevented by allowing your child to socially interact, move their bodies, play and explore the world hands-on instead of giving them an iPad or phone to occupy their time. However, if prevention is not possible there are ways to help your child come out of virtual autism, which is discussed below in Virtual Autism treatment.

Virtual Autism Recovery

It is a terrifying truth that something as simple as screen time can be harmful to your child’s health and development. However, the brain is an extraordinary organ that can be healed with the right kind of stimulation and interaction.

Eliminating screen time and giving them opportunities to explore and learn real-world experiences can help your child recover from virtual autism.

Can a child recover from virtual autism?

A considerable decrease in the symptoms can be observed in the child when screen time is eliminated or reduced along with face-to-face interactions with family and peers, physical activities, play etc. 

Virtual Autism Recovery Signs

The recovery signs for virtual autism are the disappearance or considerable decrease in the symptoms discussed previously when screen time is limited or eliminated.

When virtual autism is identified early and the right interventions are provided, the results can be remarkably positive. Here are some encouraging signs that indicate a child is making progress:

  • Increase of Playtime: One of the first positive changes you might notice is a growing interest in playing activities. This newfound curiosity is a great sign that the child is starting to engage more with their surroundings.


  • Direct Eye Contact:

    Another important pointer is making eye contact during conversations. This development is crucial as it shows the child is beginning to connect and communicate more effectively with others.

  • Speech Improvement:

    You may also observe that the child starts speaking more or their speech becomes clearer. This is a major step forward in their ability to express themselves and interact verbally

  • Enhanced Emotional Expression: Look for signs of improved emotional expression, such as more facial expressions or varied vocal tones. These indicate that the child is becoming more attuned to their own emotions and those of others.

  • Use of Hand Gestures:

    Pay attention to whether the child begins using hand gestures while communicating. Gestures are an essential part of non-verbal communication, and their use indicates that the child is learning to convey their thoughts and needs more comprehensively.

    Self-Initiated Interaction:

    Finally, one of the most heartening signs of progress is when the child starts to take the initiative in interacting with others. Whether it’s joining in a game or starting a conversation, these self-efforts are a clear indication that they are becoming more socially engaged.

  • Improved Social Awareness:

    Notice if the child becomes more aware of social cues and norms. This can include understanding when it’s appropriate to join a group activity or waiting for their turn to speak, demonstrating a deeper understanding of social interactions.

    Seeing these signs can be incredibly reassuring for parents and caregivers, offering hope and encouragement as the child continues on their path to recovery.

Virtual Autism Recovery Time

Every child is different and unique, and their families are different. How the child interacts with his/her environment, family members, peers, toys etc. differ. Hence, a definite recovery time cannot be established. 

Tips to Manage Virtual Autism In Kids

Let us discuss some tips and see how parents can address this:

#1. Reduce Screen Time

Excessive screen time is the major villain behind virtual autism. Reducing the screen time is the first step to be taken to stop it. How do you control and reduce the screen time?

  • Set limits: Establish age-appropriate screen time guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 18 months, limited use for ages 2-5, and clear boundaries for older children.


  • Offer alternatives: Provide engaging activities that don’t involve screens. This could include toys, books, outdoor play, arts and crafts, or social interaction with other children.


  • Lead by example: Limit your own screen time around your child. They learn from watching you.


#2. Encourage Social Interaction

Humans are social beings. We establish and maintain connections with other human beings. A child grows by watching and learning from their environment. Providing opportunities for your kids to socially connect will positively impact their physical and mental health.

  • Playmeets: Schedule playing and arrange meetings with other children their age. This enhances social skills and communication development.
  • Family time: Dedicate time for family activities like board games, reading together, or going for walks, going on trips etc. 
  • Enroll in social activities: Consider enrolling your child in age-appropriate classes like music, sports, or art. This provides opportunities for interaction and learning new skills.


#3. Focus on Development

Virtual autism affects the normal development of your child. If your child has this condition, it would be better if you try to engage them in activities after reducing the screen time.

  • Read to your child: Reading promotes language development, imagination, and focus.
  • Engage in conversation: Talk to your child throughout the day, describing what you’re doing, asking questions, and listening to their responses.
  • Sing songs and play games: These activities can help develop communication, memory, and motor skills.


#4. Seek Professional Guidance

Seeking professional opinion before taking it into your hands can really help you by giving proper methods to follow in order to cure it. 

  • Talk to your pediatrician: If you’re concerned about your child’s development, discuss your worries with their doctor. They can assess your child and provide guidance or referrals if needed.
  • Meet an Autism consultant: The best way to deal with such situations can be consulting an autism specialist. They can give you the right pointers for proper improvement. 


Things to keep in mind:

There are few things to remember when dealing with your children who show the symptoms of virtual autism.

  • Children’s brains are still developing, and they learn best through real-world experiences and social interaction. 
  • Reducing screen time and promoting positive interactions can significantly improve your child’s development.


Additional Tips:

Taking additional measures will be very useful in the case of virtual autism. The tips given below are the most helpful methods followed by parents like you which promise results.

  • Create screen-free zones: Designate areas in your house, like bedrooms, as screen-free zones.
  • Make screen time educational: If you do use screens, choose high-quality educational apps or programs designed for young children.
  • Be patient: Changing habits takes time. Be consistent and patient as you implement these changes.

Suggested Reading: Autism Treatment Guide

virtual autism

Here are some activities you can do with your child to keep them occupied:

  • Puzzles
  • Board games
  • Taking them to a park
  • Playing treasure hunt
  • Visiting a Zoo
  • Going to the beach
  • Drawing or colouring

    Screens have become an indispensable part of our lives, and it is quite impossible to get rid of them completely. However, being mindful of the amount of time your child is exposed to screens is important. Limit your child’s screen time, and take your child outside to play, talk to them, paint or make art together, read them stories, and play games with them that you played in your childhood.

    Taking away screens and giving them real-world experiences may protect their minds from the harmful effects of excessive screen time.


Success Stories: Virtual Autism

Gadget Addiction: Gadget Addiction in children

Autism Treatment in Kochi

Prayatna is a renowned  Autism treatment centre in Kochi, Kerala, offering best-in-class care and support. As an established organization, we are fully committing our services to make changes in the lives of autistic children with evidence based therapy and rehabilitation program. Our child autism treatment center in Kochi, Kerala has an expert panel of certified behavior consultants, speech therapists, special education experts and occupational therapists. We aim to arrange specific interventions addressing  particular issues and provide proper assistance at timely-manner.


No, virtual autism is a condition that occurs when young children below the age of two are excessively exposed to screens, and this causes ASD-like symptoms.

ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition with no specific cause, whereas virtual autism is caused due to excessive screen exposure.

Knowing that screen exposure could be harmful to your child is alarming, however, the brain is a unique organ that can be healed in many ways with the right kind of stimulation and interactions.

The symptoms of Virtual Autism can be decreased and sometimes be reversed as well.

A considerable decrease in the symptoms can be observed in the child when screen time is eliminated or reduced.

Taking away screens and giving them real-world experiences may protect their minds from the harmful effects of excessive screen time.

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Lack of interest in play activities (apart from the virtual world)
  • Speech delay
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Decreased cognition

Symptoms of virtual autism often improve or disappear when screen time is reduced or eliminated, but it’s not certain that all effects can be reversed. Some consequences of prolonged screen exposure might be permanent. However, the brain is resilient and its plasticity allows for significant recovery through increased real-world interactions and sensory experiences. Thus, while some children may fully recover, others might continue to experience some long-term effects despite reducing screen exposure.

Early and excessive screen exposure can negatively affect brain development in young children. It prevents them from experiencing important sensory activities necessary for their growth.

For example, when children spend too much time looking at their phones or ipads, they miss out on activities like touching, feeling, and exploring their surroundings, which are vital for brain development. This lack of real-world interaction can lead to parts of their brain not being used effectively. As a result, they might show symptoms similar to ASD (Autism spectrum disorder), such as speech delays, poor social skills, and cognitive difficulties.

The key is to reduce screen time while promoting real-world experiences and screen-free activities for their child. Encouraging hands-on activities like going to the park or the grocery store or to the beach etc., and fostering social interactions within the family and others can help the child’s development and alleviate the effects of excessive screen exposure. Maintaining hope and providing a supportive environment with necessary opportunities is crucial. Consulting with professionals and following structured interventions can also aid in recovery.

Written By

Need Our Help ?

Get in touch with us to make an appointment