With screens spreading and besieging us in almost every aspect of our lives, concerns are raised about the potential harms of these screens, especially on infants. Does exposure to screens contribute to the appearance of autism symptoms?.

Malak Ali Mohammed, a 38-year-old mother of a 5-month-old baby with three other children, says she is already worried about her son's safety with all these devices around him, as there are at least seven screens around him when family members gather in the same place.

Malak stresses that the baby's attention to the presence of screens already begins at the age of 4 months, as his eye has become focused on the screens in the hands of his siblings, and she also noticed that as soon as the TV is opened, the infant looks at him and does not pay attention to anything else.

As a mother, Malak explained that she is not comfortable seeing her baby exposed to all these color stimuli and sound excitement, and that for a little protection, she required those who wish to carry the baby to leave their phone in a remote place.

A recent study published last August in the journal Gamma Pediatrics and conducted on 7097,4 children found that spending between one and four hours of screen time a day at the age of one year leads to an increased risk of developmental delays in communication, fine motor skills, problem solving, and personal and social skills by the age of two years.

Research has shown that the time children spend in front of screens has harmful effects on their minds and bodies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended no screen time for children younger than 18 months of age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for babies younger than 18 months (Getty Images)

Over-stimulation of infants

When babies stare at the vivid colors and movement on the screen, their brains are unable to understand the meaning of all those strange images, and according to CNN, it takes a child's brain two full years to develop to the point where the symbols on the screen become their real-world equivalent.

The stimuli to which children are exposed during this period profoundly affect brain development. Children's brains grow deeply during the first 3 years of life, with brain mass doubling 3 times in just the first 12 months.

Children also develop what they actually see with a three-dimensional vision. While in the world of the screen things appear two-dimensional. For example, real people are more dimensional than the characters on the screen, so when looking at people's faces, our brains are activated to figure out how to interact with them.

In addition, in order for children to succeed, they must learn how to concentrate. This ability begins to develop during the early years as their brains become more sensitive to the environments around them. For the brain to develop and grow, it needs basic stimuli from the outside world and time to process them.

While reading stories aloud gives children time to process words, images and sounds, the constant assimilation of images and messages on the screen affects how much they pay attention and focus.

Learning from the real world

According to UNICEF's website, research has shown that the time a newborn spends in front of screens hinders their ability to read faces and learn social skills, two key factors necessary for developing empathy. Face-to-face interactions are the only way young children learn to understand and interpret nonverbal signals.

Charles Nelson, a Harvard neuroscientist who studies the effect of neglect on children's brains, said: "All communication is nonverbal until children develop language, so they rely heavily on looking at the face and extracting meaning from that face, which is critical for brain development."

What about language?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a parent speaks an average of 940 words per hour when playing with their young child. But the number drops to 770 once the TV is turned on in the background without anyone even watching it, and fewer words from parents mean less learning for an infant.

Children up to the age of 3 learn better from the real world than from any screen, especially when it comes to language.

Physical interaction

Facial expressions, tone of voice and body language between a child and his parents are important and complex. The actual experience of your child who physically interacts with the world through play cannot be replaced by passive watching of television. Eye-hand coordination, eye-to-foot and balance all develop during the preschool years.

The outdoors provides many interesting scenes, creating better cognitive stimulation for the child (Pixaby)

Alternatives to watching TV for the infant

Instead of putting your child in front of the TV during daily activities, have your child share the following activities:

  • Involve your child in daily activities: Let your child play with the clothes as they fold and talk to them about what you are doing.
  • Reading books: The CDC recommends reading to children. Reading is one of the best activities that help improve a child's ability to speak at the right time.
  • Play outdoors: Take your child to the beach or local park for a walk as the outdoors provides many interesting scenes, creating a better cognitive stimulation for the child than watching motion pictures on TV.

Does watching TV cause autism?

A study found that longer exposure in front of screens at 12 months was associated with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder at age 3, and the incidence rate was higher among boys. However, there is no conclusive evidence that regular television viewing by children can directly cause or increase the risk of autism.