PETALING JAYA: The owner of an autism cafe has taken exception to an academic’s recent statement connecting online time to autism.
Mohd Adly Yahya, who operates his cafe in Puchong and has a son who is autistic, said children with the condition could benefit from spending time with computers and similar devices.
He told FMT he was concerned that the statement by Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia lecturer Nurhafizah Mohd Sukor could cause panic among parents and caretakers of autistic children.
Nurhafizah, a counselling expert, said internet addiction could lead to mental disorders. According to Bernama, she called for controls over online gaming and social media use, warning that prolonged online time could cause passivity, the loss of the ability to speak and the emergence of symptoms of autism.
Adly said he had not come across any scientific evidence that prolonged screen time could lead to autism.
He also said his clients had found the use of computers and similar gadgets useful in calming down autistic children.
“Some parents rely on phones or iPads to control tantrums or meltdowns,” he said. “Taking these away from the children or stopping them from using these apparatuses could pose a problem.”
Kiren Kaur, who runs a tech training academy for special-needs children in Subang Jaya, said such devices, if used in a controlled manner, would enhance the capabilities of such children.
She told FMT she had seen autistic children pick up programming and other computer-related skills after being trained in a structured manner.
She said this was proof that such gadgets enabled autistics to display creative capabilities which might otherwise have been hidden.
Behaviour consultant Sitra Panirsheeluam, however, agreed with Nurhafizah that prolonged screen time could cause mental disorders.
But she said it would be more accurate to describe such symptoms as related to screen dependency disorder (SDD), which affects a person’s physical and emotional development.
She also said the blue rays from devices like televisions could affect brain development among children.
She told FMT that SDD symptoms, like insomnia, headaches and repetitive movements, were similar to withdrawal symptoms for alcoholics or hardcore smokers.
Many SDD sufferers, she added, preferred to isolate themselves and would have mood swings.
But unlike autistics, she said, those with SDD could improve quickly after attending therapy sessions.
She said many parents whose children had symptoms of behavioural problems had reported that their conditions improved once they cut out gadgets and limited screen time.
“They never had to come back for therapy.”
She recommended that parents make the effort to ensure that their children have regular face-to-face communication with their peers.
She said children stuck on their gadgets would more often than not have the development of their motor skills affected because their movements would be limited.
She also warned adults against prolonged screen time, saying it could affect their morale and mental health as well.