Friday, January 21, 2022

The pandemic good and bad for child development

While parents may be more aware of their children's conditions, health measures have also had an adverse impact.

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While the various lockdowns sparked by the Covid-19 crisis had a devastating impact on the social and economic sectors, they also brought with them a silver lining in the form of an increasing awareness about developmental disorders among children.

On normal days, parents busy with work and other responsibilities would be unable to spend much time with their children.

But forced to remain at home under the movement restrictions meant to curb the spread of Covid-19, many began realising that their children might need help, a senior psychologist at the National Autism Society of Malaysia said.

This, according to Lee Beewah, was the turning point for many.

“The pandemic made parents more alert towards their children’s behaviour than ever before,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“Before this, many parents did not have time for their children because both of them were working. But since we all needed to stay home during the pandemic, they could not help but notice that something was wrong with their children.”

But while the pandemic may have facilitated discovery and early intervention for some, others already struggling with a diagnosis of developmental issues have had their daily problems compounded by the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

Autistic children, in particular, have been severely challenged by the constraints of the pandemic.

While their situations might have been manageable when Covid-19 first hit early last year, after nearly two years of crisis measures including a string of lockdowns, Lee said the effects of isolation could be significant.

“When children are stuck at home for too long, some might get too comfortable with it, and that is where it goes wrong,” she said.

“Being in isolation affects children, especially children with autism disorders as they have less interaction with peers and anyone on the outside. It will affect the way they interact with people and in the long term, it will be very bad for them.”

This is something that businesswoman Ieda Ilham knows all too well.

Even before the pandemic, she had her hands full with her son, Megat Iman Ziqri, who was diagnosed with mild autism and speech delay when he was two.

Ieda, who is vocal about her experiences raising an autistic child, attributes her son’s condition in part to the use of mobile phones at a very young age.

Looking for a way to keep him occupied while she was working, she gave him his own phone when he was one year old.

“This is a mistake that I don’t want other parents to make,” she said.

“The child may not bother us anymore, but he or she will create his or her own world. In the long run, they don’t interact with other people anymore.”

Megat is now nine and doing much better as even during the pandemic, he was able to attend his therapy sessions.

He also receives more attention from his family, who have taken steps such as imposing a time limit on how long he can use the phone.

“During the pandemic, parents need to spare some time and pay more attention to their children, especially those under the age of seven as that is the most significant period for development,” Ieda said.

Lee agreed that giving children gadgets for a long period of time can be harmful.

“Clinical research has proven that children who engage excessively with gadgets have weaker organisational and problem solving skills, and poor interactive and communication skills,” she said.

“It affects many areas in child development.”

She advised parents who suspect that something is not right with their children to make an appointment with a child development specialist.

“It’s better if the child gets early intervention rather than being stuck at home while the parents wait and hope for the child to get better,” she said.

“Parents can also do a little research on what they think it is. When you have knowledge about it, you will be calmer and realise that it’s not hard to get help.”

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