Published on July 5, 2021

Part of Mindemic series

AHMEDABAD: A city-based couple worried over their four-year-old girl not walking beyond baby steps consulted a psychiatrist recently. They feared the girl who also showed signs of limited vocabulary– she would not chatter like children nextdoors her age-had developmental issues.

The psychiatrist, after consulting with his colleagues dealing with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), concurred that the child’s perceived delayed milestones were the result of staying in four walls of her home due to the pandemic. The doctors assured the parents there was nothing to worry about.

“It turned out that the girl spent most of her time indoors due to the pandemic. More than a year is too long a time for a child to remain largely indoors sans any external stimuli of speaking to kids of her own age and doing the running around in open spaces at pre-school and at home. Due to lack of stimuli, she had shown reduced signs of vocabulary and movement,” said Dr Jinesh Shah, a city-based child and adolescent psychiatrist. “If it were not for the Covid, the scenario might not have arisen.”

If Covid-19 ravaged many citizens’ bodies, its after-effects have affected many minds – including toddlers and children, say city-based experts. Excessive screen timing, lack of interaction and stressed behaviour of their parents balancing work and domestic duties all from home, impacted their natural growth. The experts have witnessed issues ranging from attention deficit to aggressive behaviour that compelled their parents to seek professional help.

Dr Punita Grover, a city-based child and adolescent psychiatrist, says many children are reporting issues with speech development. “In one of my cases, a six-year-old child had not developed the speech capability matching her age. In such cases, we believe that the screen cannot be an alternative of the person-to-person communication,” said “At developmental stage, the speech progresses with learning of new words and how to arrange them. When the communication is one-way (with screen), it can cause problems for some kids.”

Covid-19 pandemic has seen unprecedented exposure of young children to screens for online education. Doctors are reporting screen addiction in children as young as five years old. Dr Nehal Shah, a city-based psychiatrist, the child was diagnosed as `addicted’ as he would not eat without the screen in front of him. At a very young age, the children need something constant to hold their attention. The parents – who were also working from home – tried to engage them with the screens which later became a need for some kids,” he said, adding that they advise the parents to reduce their screen time as well to set an example for the kids.

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