X-Box, iPads, Play Station, wii, PC … whatever your interactive device or console of choice … video games are very alluring to many individuals, but particularly to those on the autism spectrum.
Possible gaming addiction is probably the most discussed topic between myself and other families raising autistic children. I’ve read the research about the positives and negatives of gaming and I have formulated my own thoughts on the subject based on my lived experience with my very own three avid gamers.
Video games are a perfect retreat or escape from reality. In this alternate world, you are in control of the game and you are in control of what happens within the game. Video games create a sense of connection with others especially as many individuals now “party” online, playing games with other players around the world. In this world, it’s quite possible that the autistic individual feels safe, at home, accepted and connected. They know the story, they know the situation, and there are rules which have to be followed. When something makes you feel good you tend to seek it out more and more especially if the real world is more challenging for you to navigate.
My boys tell me that playing games makes them feel relaxed and it’s something they really genuinely enjoy. J loves to live party! We have controls in place to ensure he is safe whilst online. He loves the gaming but what he loves most about the gaming is partying live with others. I have observed that since J started partying he has developed quite good conflict resolution skills and his self regulation skills and frustration levels have also improved. J does a lot of research about his games by following YouTube bloggers who post videos about how they achieved certain levels of the games and cheats to help you get through a level quicker. He uses this same logic to now solve real life issues such as hitting a hitch with homework – he will now look for a YouTube clip that explains the content to him. I think that gaming provides some legitimate positives for children when used in a safe and controlled way.
It’s a very different age we are living in and I do think that we need to accept video games as part of life for our young people. I do think we have a responsibility to apply limits with the technology, but I think we need to do this in a non-controlling, non-threatening way, and non-judgmental way. Gaming for this generation is like rock and music was to generations before us. I’m pretty sure that parents yelling at young people of the 1950’s and 1960’s to switch off the radio didn’t prevent them from continuing a lifelong love affair with rock ‘n roll. And I’m also fairly confident that if someone tried to take from YOU the one thing in your day that provided you with retreat, escape and relaxation (for me it’s a glass of wine after dinner!) you would have something to say about it!
Why not ask your child what it is about gaming that is meeting a need in them – is it connection, is it escape, is it acceptance? Find an alternative activity that might meet this need in them. Why not encourage our young people to develop other interests, so that when they’re not gaming they have other hobbies or interests to pursue?
My final piece of advice … how do we validate someone and show them that we love them? We listen to them and we engage in the things that they love to promote connection and acceptance. So my challenge to parents and carers is that you play video games WITH your children. Ask them to invite you into their world and share this with them. This sense of connection will help you enormously as you encourage your loved one to spend more time engaged in the real world with you.
PS. Please go online and learn more about Aspergers Experts https://www.aspergerexperts.com/ . This video clip about video gaming is really insightful and worth watching when you have a moment. http://www.aspergerexperts.com/go/playvideogames/