ST Forum Mar 15, 1999: Starting young on computers

I REFER to the report “Don’t start children on IT too early’ (ST, March 8).

I am surprised by Ms Patricia Koh’s statement that starting children too early may lead to autism. As far as I know, autism is a developmental condition that a child is born with. I am not aware of research which shows that autism can be developed through excessive use of any particular object.

Perhaps she meant that the use of IT may lead to anti-social behaviour. This is a rather unfair statement, because computers are tools which one can use positively or negatively. If computers can cause anti-social behaviour, then all the more we should be wary of television and video games, which can be even more addictive and destructive.

What is more important is that children must be supervised when they use computers. Whether a child starts using computers at the age of five or 10, he/she can develop negative social behaviour if he/she becomes addicted, especially to computer games.

I do not agree that children should start using computers only after going to primary school and having mastered basic skills.

Computer programmes can be very educational and be used to supplement learning, whether it is languages, mathematics, science, or any other subjects.

In fact, the proper use of computers at an early age can supplement learning taught in classrooms.

—————— reply ———————-

I THANK Mr Yee Jenn Jong for his response to my views, published in the article “Don’t start children on IT too early” (ST, March 8).

For 25 years, I have dedicated my life to teaching and reaching out to thousands of young children.

I have also had the opportunity to work with children with special needs, including those diagnosed as autistic.

However, it is only in the last 10 years that I am seeing more children with the following autistic tendencies: they avoid eye contact, respond well to mechanical sounds from video and computer games and are slow in their speech.

More often than not, they mimick the English “spoken” in the computer-assisted learning software.

These autistic children also often appear to be in a world of their own. Sometimes they may be very aggressive or hyperactive.

Some literature written about early childhood autism suggests that the condition is due to the child being exposed to an unnatural environment. Another school of thought is quick to blame such autistic-like behaviour on genes.

I am not advocating one school of thought over the other.

All I am suggesting to parents is this: the handling of autistic children deserves a serious, holistic approach; attributing blame will not cure the child.

I have discovered that some children display autistic tendencies when they are left alone at home to occupy themselves with the television and computers.

They have little interaction with people, and have few childhood experiences or memories.

They also become impatient easily and want to have things done immediately.

In the light of the discussion that has transpired, I am prompted to document my own experiences and the cases that I have handled.

This is not done to champion any particular approach; I just hope that some parents and precious young lives can benefit from the little I can share.

The computer and computer-assisted learning software are but tools; at such an early age, there is really not much more that they can teach a young child that his parents, pre-school teachers and even his peers, cannot.

In fact, during the early years, a child learns almost magically – without the adult trying too hard to “supplement” his learning.

Please leave the schools to introduce IT at Primary 3. The early years are wonderful years.

Relax with your child, and enjoy every moment of his early growth and development.

PATRICIA KOH Principal Pat’s Schoolhouse


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