Srinagar, Dec 6: A startling trend has emerged in the summer capital where over 70 percent of autistic children visiting the Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre (CGWC) of the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) at SMHS hospital are diagnosed with "virtual autism."
As per the doctors, this concerning trend is attributed to the excessive screen time and lack of parental attention among children.
Official data from the CGWC reveals that out of the 189 autism cases registered between 2019 and 2021, 132 were classified as virtual autism. This trend persisted in 2022, with 75 autism cases recorded, and further escalated in 2023, with 67 cases registered up to October.
Dr Zaid Wani, Professor, Psychiatry department at IMHANS who is also heading Child Guidance and Wellbeing Center (CGWC) told Greater Kashmir that the prevalence of virtual Autism in Kashmir is high.
"We receive 70 percent of the autistic children who don’t get the attention of their parents and are more inclined to the virtual world-smartphones, TV and other mediums," he said.
He said besides virtual Autism, the centre also receives children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests in early childhood.
He said that it is very important for parents to give attention to their children and maintain a healthy and active environment.
As per a recent report by CGWC-IMHANS which was sponsored by UNICEF, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is about 2.34 percent among children under the age group of four to six years in the Kashmir valley.
Tauseef Rashid, a psychiatric social worker at the CGWC told Greater Kashmir that parents often bring their children to the center with concerns about their development, citing symptoms such as delayed speech, solitary play, and diminished eye contact.
"Children between the ages of 0 and 3 are considered at risk of developing virtual autism and can benefit from early intervention. These children undergo screening using the M-CHAT assessment tool, and their scores guide the type of interventions they receive," she said.
She said that the symptoms of these children can be managed well. "The cause of virtual Autism is exposure to screen and electronic devices which hampers a child's development. Autism is a disorder which can be managed but it is not 100 percent curable," she added.