Exploring the Correlation between Screen Time and Autism & ADHD

Summary: Researchers conducted a study to explore the relationship between screen time and genetic predispositions to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. They discovered that children with a genetic predisposition to ASD had increased screen usage, while children with ADHD tendencies increased their screen time as they got older. These findings challenge the belief that screen time causes ASD and suggest that it may serve as an early indicator.

Key Facts:

  1. The study utilized a “polygenic risk score” to assess genetic susceptibility to ASD and ADHD based on 6.5 million genetic polymorphisms in children’s DNA.
  2. Children with a higher genetic risk for ASD were up to 2.1 times more likely to use screens for over four hours a day from an early age.
  3. Rather than being a causative factor, prolonged screen time might be an early sign of ASD, as children with ASD often find objects more engaging than human interaction.

Source: Nagoya University

A team led by Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan conducted a study on screen time in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. Screen time refers to the amount of time spent on devices with screens, such as smartphones, computers, televisions, or video game systems.

The researchers found that children with a genetic predisposition to ASD were more likely to spend longer periods of time on screens. On the other hand, children with ADHD gradually increased their screen time as they grew older, even if their initial screen use was minimal.

This shows a child looking at a tablet.
They also found that kids with a high genetic risk of ADHD gradually increased their screen time as they grew older. Credit: Neuroscience News

The study’s findings have been published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

As people spend more time looking at screens, children with neurodevelopmental disorders tend to engage with screens for extended periods. To address this issue, researchers from Nagoya University and Hamamatsu University analyzed 6.5 million genetic polymorphisms in 437 children’s DNA to determine their genetic susceptibility to ASD and ADHD.

Using this data, the researchers calculated a genetic risk index that utilized the number and size of genetic changes associated with ASD/ADHD – known as a “polygenic risk score”.

They then compared the genetic risk index with the amount of time the children spent using screen devices at 18, 32, and 40 months old.

The results revealed that children with a higher genetic susceptibility to ASD spent more time using screens from an early age, averaging 3 hours a day or more than 4 hours a day. Additionally, children with a high genetic risk of ADHD gradually increased their screen time over time.

Dr. Nagahide Takahashi, the lead researcher from Nagoya University, explained, “Overall, individuals with a genetic risk of ASD were 1.5 times more likely to belong to the group with approximately three hours of screen time per day, and 2.1 times more likely to belong to the group with over four hours of screen time.”

He added, “While it has been suggested that prolonged screen time in childhood can cause ASD/ADHD, our study suggests that some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to using screens due to ASD. Screen time may serve as an early sign of ASD, rather than a cause, as children with ASD often find objects more captivating than interacting with people. Physicians should understand that it is not appropriate to conclude that prolonged screen time is a risk factor for the development of ASD.”

Furthermore, Takahashi cautioned against excessive screen exposure for children with ADHD. He stated, “Our results indicate that children at risk of ADHD are also prone to excessive screen time, especially considering the prevalence of gaming addiction. Given that screen time tends to be longer for children with a higher susceptibility to ADHD, parents and caregivers should be cautious and address this issue before it becomes problematic.”

These findings may assist parents in developing effective parenting strategies. “Parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders may feel guilty or face criticism from others regarding their children’s screen time,” said Takahashi.

He suggested, “However, we recommend providing support to caregivers, including alternative behavioral management strategies.”

About this ADHD and Autism Research News

Author: Matthew Coslett
Source: Nagoya University
Contact: Matthew Coslett – Nagoya University
Image: Credit to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
“The association between screen time and genetic risks for neurodevelopmental disorders in children” by Nagahide Takahashi et al. Psychiatry Research


Abstract

The association between screen time and genetic risks for neurodevelopmental disorders in children

Whether prolonged screen time during infancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD has been a subject of debate. However, no causal relationship between screen time and NDDs has been established.

Utilizing ongoing longitudinal cohort data, this study found that in children aged 24 to

Reference

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