3-D Technology in Movies, TV and Video Games Pose Health Risks to Children with Special Needs



Strolling down the aisles of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, one notices the proliferation and continuing trend of three dimensional or 3-D products ranging from televisions, video game consoles and 3-D glasses for computer use and movies. While 3-D can be fun, there are some hidden health dangers, especially for children with special needs. Just recently, Nintendo, which is releasing a 3-D hand-held gaming console called the Nintendo 3DS, will be putting a health warning label on the new device. These devices not only contribute to sensory overload for your child with special needs or a disability, but could also pose a health risk to them.

“I would advise parents of young children to consider these warnings before they choose to see a 3-D movie or viewing a 3-D television with any young child and especially those with children with special needs,” stated AbiltyPath.org expert Cassy Christianson OTR/L. “If the child has a history of seizures, I would strongly advise against their viewing a 3-D movie or 3-D television”.

Tips on Viewing Movies with your Child with Special Needs

Additional warnings from 3-D media manufacturers have been issued because there is a risk that using a display so close to the eyes could cause eye fatigue and headache. A study at the University of California Berkeley found that the use of 3-D glasses and watching 3-D media may cause eye strain which leads to headaches, blurred vision and fatigue. Martin Banks Ph.D., a professor of optometry at UC Berkeley, says younger viewers are more vulnerable.

“When you hit your fifties and sixties, we think that concern is going to be reduced,” noted Banks.  “So that is probably more problematic for young adults, teenagers, et cetera.”

In addition to the sensory sensitivity or health concerns for a child with special needs, their eye may be fragile to environmental responses since it is still developing. Increased high stimulation, such as 3-D may hurt a child’s ability to focus and pay attention.

A few of the potential 3-D health care risks you should be aware of for yourself and your child with special needs:

Strabismus. Not everyone is able to view 3-D since it usually requires the ability to view the image clearly in each eye. 3-D exposure causes eye fatigue for some which can lead to this stabismus. Treatment for strabismus involves helping a child’s nervous system to relearn stereoscopic vision; but the ability to relearn this has its limitations, and treatment has been met with limited success beyond a certain age.

Epileptic seizure or stroke. Exposure to flashing images or lights from 3-D images may cause epileptic seizure or stroke. If you or any of your family has a history of epilepsy or stroke, please consult with a medical specialist before 3-D viewing in a movie theater, on your television, gaming console or computer.

Motion sickness and/or headaches. Many viewers have reported motion sickness or headaches while viewing 3-D. You should monitor and ask your children if they are experiencing any adverse effects while viewing 3-D media. Children may be more likely to experience these symptoms than adults. If they report these affects, stop viewing the 3-D media immediately and monitor if the headaches go away.

Sensory over-stimulation. This is a common occurrence in many children with special needs or a disability. The intensified picture/graphics of a 3-D movie may cause sensory overstimulation in your child. Your child may also have an over-stimulated response to the 3-D glasses they are required to wear, since sensory sensitive children don’t always like their face or head covered.

If you or your child experiences any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

AbilityPath.org Parent Tips Before Viewing 3-D

  1. Talk to your child about sensory events that may have caused them anxiety. Remind them about the loud outdoor concert that made them cry, or the sandy beach that “made their skin hurt” before telling them to put on 3-D glasses. Wearing these glasses or viewing cartoon characters jump off the screen may bring back some of these feelings. A great book to help children embrace differences in themselves and others is It’s Okay to be Different.
  2. 3-D movies can cost extra. Tell your child that you are going to see a less expensive 2-D to save on funds. If your child doesn’t understand the concept of saving money, allow them to use the difference for a treat that can be purchased while at the 2-D movie.
  3. Think twice about buying 3-D video games if your child has special needs or sensory sensitivity. You should also consider limiting the amount of time spent viewing or playing 3-D games in light of the research and current warnings.

“Warning: 3D Video Hazardous to Your Health.” Audioholics Online A/V Magazine. June 25, 2010.
“Research Shows 3-D Movies, TV Can Cause Eye Strain, Headaches” Voice of America®, July 13, 2010.
“Important Health and Safety Information for 3D Pictures.” Samsung.com. http://www.samsung.com/au/tv/warning.html (accessed January 10, 2011)
“Eye Specialists Question Nintendo’s Warning on 3-D Technology and Childre.” New York Times. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/eye-specialists-question-nintendos-warning-on-3-d-technology-and-children/?scp=1&sq=3-d&st=cse (accessed January 10, 2011).

Resources and Links
American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Media Use

Nintendo.com Health and Safety Precautions

AbilityPath.org’s Resources for Sensory Development