Differentiating Post–Digital Nannying Autism Syndrome from Autism Spectrum Disorders in Young Children: A Comparative Cross-Sectional Study

Hamid Reza Pouretemad, Saeid Sadeghi, Reza Shervin Badv, and Serge Brand


Excessive exposure of young children to digital devices has increased in recent years. Much research has shown that early excessive screentime is associated with autistic-like symptoms. This study aimed to differentiate children with Post–Digital Nannying Autism Syndrome (PDNAS) from children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and typically developing children (TDC), both behaviorally and cognitively. This study is comparative and cross-sectional and included three groups of children. The first group consisted of 15 young children with subthreshold autism symptoms. They had not received a formal diagnosis of ASD and had been exposed to digital devices for more than half of their waking time. The second group consisted of 15 young children with ASD, and the third group consisted of 15 young TDC. A lifestyle checklist, a modified checklist for autism in toddlers (M-CHAT), a behavioral flexibility rating scale-revised (BFRS-R), the Gilliam autism rating scale (GARS-2), and a behavior rating inventory of executive functioning-preschool version (BRIEF-P) were used to compare the three groups. The results showed that executive functions and behavioral flexibility were more impaired in children with ASD than in children with PDNAS and in TDC. Also, we found that there was no significant difference in the severity of autism symptoms between the children with ASD and the children with PDNAS. Early excessive exposure to digital devices may cause autism-like symptoms in children (PDNAS). Children with PDNAS are different from children with ASD in executive functions and behavioral flexibility. Further research is needed in this area.