ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many kids have been using technology constantly throughout the pandemic and a speech pathologist said it’s important to be mindful of how it’s being used. She said technology can impact a child in the early years, sometimes leading to a misdiagnosis of autism.
Somer Donovan’s eight year old daughter Violet is a talkative, happy kid. But Donovan said it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.
“My daughter was considered a late talker, so some people would assume she was autistic,” Donovan said.
She said she was overwhelmed as a mom and relied on technology more than she’s proud to say.
“It becomes disabling for our children because they’re not learning all the social cues they need to have, they’re not engaging with us.”
That’s where speech pathologist Marci Melzer comes in. Melzer studies technoference, which is when a person pays more attention to their device than the people around them. She said in the studies she’s done, she sees parents putting their kids on devices, the kids developing technoference for their parents, and the parents also spending time on devices and developing technoference for their kids.
Melzer said in her 2017 study, 48% of parents admitted to demonstrating technoference three times a day.
She said kids need two to three hours a day of active listening and engagement with other people.
“When kids are late talking they don’t have the words they need to share their feelings. What do they do when they don’t have language because they haven’t learned it from people around them and all they know is rhymes or Mickey Mouse things or whatever they’re watching? Guess what they start using for language, the stuff off the videos which makes them look autistic. It’s not because they’re autistic or neurologically impaired at all, it’s because they’re not hearing and learning the spoken language they need,” Melzer said.
She said the amount of time spent on tech doesn’t matter as much as how the tech is being used.
“Instead of just educating, they’re using it as a behavior training tool. They’re using it to get their kids to eat ,to get their kids to sleep, they’re using it to get their kids to start some behavior, ‘if you do this I’ll give you the tech,'” she said.
Her secret weapon for parents is to create the content with your child. She said filming them doing activities or filming family members is a good way to keep everyone involved. She said once you’ve done the, put the tech away and get in the two to three hours of face-to-face connection time. Melzer also said it’s not bad to split this time up throughout the day. Donovan uses these methods.
“We would take video clips of her doing fun stuff that was the first step and watch that,” Donovan said. “When you start communicating and engaging with your child and you take the tech part out of it even little bits at a time, you will be so surprised how much more engaged your child will be.”
Donovan said these changes have changed her family’s lives for the better.
Many of Melzer’s methods and tips for parents can be found in her YouTube videos.