For my baby girl, the ceiling fan was a constant source of amusement. She will never get tired of watching it whirling in her waking hours. If she happened to be in a good mood, she would giggle while remaining entranced by its movement, as if the ceiling fan was putting on a comedy show. I was puzzled and amused by her fixation on the ceiling fan. Sometimes I got a little worried by her long stare at the ceiling fan. But luckily, she outgrew it. From 2-3 months onward, she shifted her attention to other exciting objects and started to pay attention closely to people’s faces. The ceiling fan could no longer excite her as it used to.
For infants under 4 months old, their sense of vision is still developing. Except for items close to their eyes, much of the surroundings would appear blurry to them. They couldn’t pick out details with their underdeveloped sense of vision. Only light, moving objects and items with high contrast can engage their attention. Ceiling fans have both movement and high contrast against the ceiling. It provides a stimulating experience for their visual sensory development. Besides, newborn babies don’t have expectations for how things move or work. Every movement was a surprise for them.
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What is it about ceiling fans for newborns?
It might surprise you to learn that newborn babies have to learn how to use their eyes to see things like they learn how to walk and talk. For the first couple of weeks, the world around them would appear out of focus for them, a blurry mess that makes no sense. Except for the items located around 8-12 inches from their eyes, they cannot see the marvelous details of this world.
Apart from their imprecise focus, newborns have trouble coordinating the movement of their two eyes. If the items move too fast before them, they are unable to track them accurately. You might assume that humans are born with the ability to track a moving object with their eyes. That’s not the case. Newborns spend the first few weeks of their life learning and honing their skills to manage their two eyes as a team. It is perfectly normal for newborn’s eyes to appear crossed or wander, which is just a sign that they have yet to learn the trick of coordinating their eye movement.
While they are learning to track moving objects, their eye-hand coordination is also improving. The visual information received by a newborn’s eyes has to be processed by their brain to enable newborns to interact with the world. You will notice that after the baby’s 3-4 months, they will start to reach for things that interest them. It’s an important milestone marking the start of their eye-hand coordination development.
It is natural for newborn babies to crave new sensory experiences to accumulate knowledge about the world and help their visual and nerve systems grow. Much of that new experience comes through their sight.
Because of their sense of vision’s immaturity, newborn babies prefer to look at the moving, colorful objects with high contrast against the background. A ceiling fan falls into this category. But newborn babies do not limit their interest to a ceiling fan. Anything moving and colorful might hold them in a trance. And it is worth mentioning that not all babies love watching the ceiling fan. Like adults, they have different taste and what interest one baby might end up frightening another.
Newborn babies love to observe moving objects for their higher stimulation and their educational value; The movement of one object will help them understand the purpose of this object. As they watch the spinning ceiling fan, they would create a connection in their mind between the fan and its movement. Many such connections are built in their young brains and contribute to their learning.
Is it normal for a baby to stare into space?
Much like adults taking a break from their work, newborn babies also need to unwind from the stress of information and sensory overload. That’s why you might catch them staring in space, as a way to rest their hyperactive brain. You can never underestimate the workload of understanding the world around you.
Do I need to worry about autism?
As your baby grows, they will gradually shift their attention from inanimate objects to people’s faces, a far more exciting object to stare at. From this stage onward, they start to learn how to socialize and develop their language.
If babies older than 3-4 months old still spend an abnormally long time staring at a ceiling fan or other moving object that they are long used to, it is a cause for concern. It is an early sign of autism.
Autism is a range of conditions grouped together with symptoms like having difficulty socializing, delay in speech developments, etc. This condition affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Please note that autism includes many subtypes with different characteristics. Children who have autism have distinct strengths and weaknesses. The absence of one symptom doesn’t mean autism doesn’t exist. Diagnosis of autism usually requires extensive testing and traditionally done after children turn 2 years old.
But it doesn’t mean the parents suspecting their children have autism should wait and do nothing until their kids are 2 year old. Early intervention is extremely important to help children combat autism. It is proved that early intervention could bring positive outcomes in the battle against autism.
To do that, parents need to watch out for signs of autism in children as early as 4 months old.
Apart from long stares at spinning ceiling fans for 4 months old or older, avoiding or limited eye contact is an important hallmark of autism. It suggests a lack of interest in social interaction, which could also be detected in the absence of a smile or other joyful expression.
Starting at age one, parents need to pay attention to their language development. Lack of babbling or gestures like pointing, waving, and reaching is a potential sign of autism. When they reach the age of two, if children limit their sentence length to two or three words, you need to consult a specialist and schedule a screening for autism.
At any age level, a general lack of interest in human interaction, a preference for solitude, and a tendency towards repetitive behavior are all causes for concern. If you detect these signs, a visit to the doctor is warranted.
It is perfectly normal for newborn babies to stare at a ceiling fan for a while, and their interest might extend to other moving objects with high contrast. Because of their poor vision, they cannot discern the finer details of the surrounding world; only the movement of objects with high contrast could engage their attention.
But if this behavior extends beyond 3-4 months, it could be considered a sign of autism. Parents need to watch out for signs of autism and intervene as early as possible if autism is suspected. It is proven that early intervention for children with autism will bring positive results.