A recent study has found that infants who watch television or are shown videos may be more likely to display a range of atypical sensory behaviours.
The study was conducted by researchers from Drexel University College of Medicine in the United States, and was published in early January in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, and was written about on the EurekAlert website.
Children's sensory processing skills reflect their bodies' ability to respond effectively and appropriately to the information and stimuli that surround them and are received by their body's sensory systems, such as responding to sounds, touch, tasting foods, and seeing things around them.
The research team used information available through the National Children's Study on infants' (ages 12, 18, and 24 months) viewing of television and CDs during the period between 2011 and 2014. This national survey provided information on 1,471 children's viewing of television and video films, and sensory processing was measured in these children at the age of 33 months, using a questionnaire filled out by the parents or caregivers of the children. This questionnaire is designed to assess children's processing of what they hear, see and smell.
By filling out this questionnaire, the parents give a score for the child’s behavior, ranging from 1 (always) to 5 (never), when the child reaches approximately 30 months of age. Hence, low scores indicate that the child is consistently doing the described sensory behaviors.
The questionnaire provides questions about children’s behavior in relation to 5 areas:
- auditory response; Such as: trying to make sound from toys, or avoiding noisy places.
- visual response; Such as: looking at shiny things.
- sensory response; For example: resisting being hugged by someone.
- motor response; Such as: resisting putting the head back when showering.
- oral response to objects; Such as: chewing inedible things.
The questionnaire presents a grid of 4 things that summarize and help understand the children’s response. The children’s response is classified into:
- Low responsiveness: This is a child who does not notice the stimuli around him, and responds slowly to them.
- Children who seek sensory stimulation: They are children who are interested in and enjoy any sensory stimulus.
- Stimulus-sensitive children: They are children who are aware of the slightest stimulus around them.
- Stimulus-avoidant children: They are children who try to control the environment around them. Such as: resistance to showering.
How does television viewing affect infants and young children?
The researchers found that exposure to screens at 12 months of age reduced the response of these children by 105% when compared to children who were not exposed to screens at all. Every additional hour an 18-month-old spent on screens was associated with a 23% increase in atypical behaviors associated with decreased responsiveness and avoidance of stimuli.
As for exposure to screens at the age of 24 months, it increases by 20% the probability that the child will become more interested and seeking stimuli, and less sensitive to them and avoid them at the age of 33 months.
These findings add to a long list of health and developmental outcomes associated with screen viewing by infants and young children. This list includes delayed language learning, some behavioral issues, difficulty sleeping, problems concentrating, and delayed ability to solve problems.
According to Dr. Karen Hefler, a physician and associate professor of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine, and the lead researcher in this study; The repetitive behaviors that appear in infected children With autism spectrum disordersignificantly associated with atypical sensory response.
It is worth noting that the American Academy for Pediatrics does not encourage children under the age of 24 months to watch screens. The academy considers that there is no problem with live video calls, as they provide the child with a benefit from the interaction that occurs through them. The Academy recommends limiting a child’s screen time to no more than an hour between the ages of 2 and 5 years.
Dr. Heffler points out that although the study looked at the number of hours of television or video viewing, and not what is watched through smartphones and tablets; It presents early information about early exposure to digital media and its subsequent impact on children's behavior, and adds that we need to research more about the relationship between early exposure to screens and behavioral disorders.