Screen time for babies linked to higher risk of autism-like symptoms later in childhood

April 20, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (April 20, 2020) - Sitting a baby in front of a tablet or television, as well as less parent-child play time, are associated with developing greater autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-like symptoms later in childhood. These findings, from the first prospective study on the subject, are published today in JAMA Pediatrics from researchers at Drexel University's College of Medicine and Dornsife School of Public Health.

The authors suggest that these findings come at a critical time during this coronavirus pandemic with many children at home all day and parents juggling working from home or other new responsibilities while watching their children.

"The literature is rich with studies showing the benefits of parent-infant interaction on later child development, as well as the association of greater screen viewing with developmental delays," said lead author Karen F. Heffler, MD, a researcher in the College of Medicine. Our study expands on this previous research by associating early social and screen media experiences with later ASD-like symptoms."

During babies' 12- and 18-months well visits, their caregivers were asked about how often their baby is exposed to screens or books, and how often they play with their child. Following this group of 2,152 children from the National Children's Study the team examined how watching television or videos, as well as social play time and reading together, were associated with ASD risk and ASD-like symptoms at two years of age as measured by the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT). While toddlers generally are interested in interacting with others, those with ASD-like symptoms are less likely to show these social behaviors.

Controlling for gender, race, maternal age, and prematurity, the team found that viewing screens at 12 months of age was associated with four percent greater ASD-like symptoms, and daily play time with a parent compared to less than daily play time was associated with nine percent less ASD-like symptoms. The findings back recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics which discourages screen time in children younger than 18 months, unless it is used for video chatting.

One in 54 children has ASD, a condition four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous studies report that about 50 to 80 percent of overall autism risk is genetic, yet non-genetic contributors are poorly understood.

"These findings strengthen our understanding of the importance of play time between parents and children relative to screen time," said senior author David S. Bennett, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine. "There is a great opportunity for public health campaigns and pediatricians to educate and empower parents to possibly minimize their child's risk of ASD symptoms, which may include increasing social interaction and limiting screens at an early age."

The authors note that their study did not find an association with ASD risk, but rather with ASD-like symptoms. Future studies should explore whether this relationship is determined by children predisposed to ASD being drawn to the screens or screens contributing to ASD-like symptoms. In the meantime, the authors suggest that parents adhere to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to avoid screen time in children younger than 18 months and limit screens to one hour daily through age 5 years, co-viewed to help children understand what they are seeing.

The paper also provides additional evidence associating prematurity, minority race or ethnicity, as well as lower income with higher risk of ASD and ASD-like symptoms.
-end-
In addition to Heffler and Bennett, additional authors on this paper include Danielle M. Sienko, MS, who completed the work while at Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health, Keshab Subedi, MS, MSc, of ChristianaCare Health System, and Kathleen A. McCann, M Phil, of Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.

Drexel University

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.