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.

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. 

Virtual Autism Treatment

Eliminating screen time

Actively exploring the world around us through a wide range of activities

Giving opportunities for face-to-face interactions with peers

Group playtime

Quality time with parents and adults, such as bedtime stories, playing together, cooking together, etc.

Introducing physical activities

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
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