TV Implicated in Autism Rise
Business Professors' Study Links Too Much Toddler TV Time to Autism
Expert: TV-Autism Link Plausible
Child development expert Leslie Rubin, MD, finds Waldman's study interesting. But he does not think it proves a link between autism and television viewing. Rubin is director of developmental pediatrics at Emory University and director of the center for developmental medicine at the Marcus Institute, Atlanta.
"They are looking at trends in the diagnosis of autism more than the actual prevalence of autism itself," Rubin tells WebMD. "They correlate these diagnostic trends with rain and county, and at another level with the proliferation of cable TV and stuff like VCRs and DVDs and computer games. They all happened at the same time, but I can't see that one is the cause of the other."
This doesn't mean that Rubin rejects Waldman's idea that TV can trigger autism.
"TV viewing might be associated with autism if a child has that tendency and is not forced or coaxed or encouraged to engage in social interactions but instead is allowed to sit in front of a television," he says. "The whole goal of autism treatment is to encourage social interactions. We know that makes the single biggest difference in children's outcomes -- how they relate to others. So if they watch TV instead of interacting, they are going to get more withdrawn."
Like Waldman, Rubin says Americans -- including medical researchers -- don't pay enough attention to what television does to kids.
"We use TV for babysitting, as a substitute for social interactions, as the sole form of entertainment for children and families," he says. "Instead of kids going out to socialize, they stay home and watch TV. So if they have tendencies toward autism, these would be accentuated by the absorption of TV instead of being challenged by social interactions."
Obviously, Rubin isn't just talking about kids with autism. He's talking about all of our kids -- and all of us.
"Social experiences are important for kids as they grow up. Social experiences shape a person's life," he says. "If children watch TV for most of their lives, I think there will be some sort of negative impact. This may well be associated with some diagnostic condition."