Virtual Autism

Autism Calling

Please bear with us a moment.

We have a story to tell you. A telling story alright. Germane to the autism correlation to follow.

Good kids with, potentially, bad devices. Over time, really bad devices.

The Hughes Brothers know a talented and compassionate man named Dave. We’ve known him for well more than forty years. We used to play basketball together at the wondrous private school where we taught: half-court, three faculty versus three kids, two of whom went on to play Divisional I ball. We never lost. Not once. In large part because we had Dave..

Tennis, the U.S. Open, the Waldorf Astoria, and some really, really bad devices.

John Howard Hughes left teaching after three rigorous, impossibly rewarding years. But Dave stayed. He’s still there, at that school, no longer teaching the history he loves – American mostly, but European as well and, now and then, ancient, the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians.

He coaches tennis. Oh Lord, does he coach tennis. Umpteen Kansas state titles, girls and boys alike, year after year that high school turning out superb athletes who hit the ball hard, well-placed and hard, strategized under days and weeks of Dave’s teaching.


In gratitude for all that he has accomplished, a year ago the parents of the players — current, past, and long past – sent Dave, his wife, and all the youngsters to see the U.S. Open.

Dave sent John Howard a picture of his team, in front of that famous hotel, waiting on a limo there to take them to Forest Hills, to the Open itself, to see the best tennis players in the world have at each other.

Fifteen love. Game. Set. Match.

Dave and his wife are beaming in that photo, full of obvious anticipation. One of the kids seems to share their excitement.

But the others.

The others.

Fifteen of them looking down, transfixed, at the smart phones in their hands.

Stupid, stupid telephony.

The question comes: what, possibly, could be more interesting on those telephonic screens than a night in the Waldorf and the Open waiting a few miles down the road?

For tennis players!

Tennis players.

The World Cancer Research Fund on kids with phones.

We’ll skip past the dozen cancers waiting for young people with the sedentary lifestyles that excess interaction with phones, tablets, and gaming consoles inevitably obtain. We’ll not address the WCRF’s “brain imaging research showing how overuse of screens can affect the brain’s frontal cortex in the same way cocaine does.

We live in a world where over ninety percent of one-year-olds – one-year-olds have already used a mobile device.

Oh my gosh: the collective response from the Hugheses.

Autism among the young, very young social media crowd.

Doctors have been forced to fabricate a new term for little ones over-exposed to digital devices.

Virtual autism.

Behaviors same as autistic.

Case in point: Dr. Leah Light, founder of the Brainchild Institute in Hollywood, Florida, describes the repetitive actions of a two-year-old boy whose parents, concerned and rightly so, brought him to her clinic. The doctors report: “The boy is non-verbal. He does not respond to the calling of his own name. He emits a few repetitive sounds. He appears to be hearing impaired. He makes extremely poor, if any, eye contact. He does not point. He runs out of control. He does not walk quietly. It is very, very difficult to keep him engaged.”

Virtual autism, brought on by an average of four hours of screen time day to day. The little guy’s parents’ explanation for it all: “With a screen in front if his face, we can persuade him to eat, to get dressed, to remain reasonably calm. With that screen he becomes sedated, zoned out, in a world of his own.

Who needs virtual autism?

A powerful question for you, for the Hughes Brothers, for all of us. With the incidence of real autism on the rise, this phone-based nonsense must somehow be stopped.

Your guess thereto is just as good as ours.