Video Games and Autism, ASD, ADD, ADHD
I was approached by spectrum magazine with a few questions about video games and children with autism. Here are my responses. I encourage parents to please add your thoughts, let’s share with each other what we find to be helpful and what has not been helpful.
- 1. Why are kids with Autism especially drawn to video games?
A: Their brains are usually subject to over stimulation (they are hearing and seeing so much more than we do, so it causes sensory overload). For some reason, even though I find video games to be sensory overload, to ASD kids I think they can hyper focus on the screen and it helps them tune out all the “noise” that is so distressing.
- Do you feel video games can provide a positive social connection these kids are often lacking? Why or why not?
A: YES. I have seen the video games to be calming (opposite to the effect they have on me) and thus an anxious ASD child could pause and look up from a game being much calmer than they may have been without the game to center and “ground” them. Development of games that teach and train social interaction and learning will be a huge benefit.
- Do you have any tips on how to limit video games or use them as a reward to achieve other desired behaviors?
A: As with all good things, balance is good. This becomes tricky and I don’t think there is a certain amount of screen time that is best. If you have a mild ASD child who can function in the real world fairly well, the more time away from the screen the better. Use small doses of screen time rewarding ….. X, Y, Z. For the severely affected who is going to be screaming and spinning or flapping from sensory overload, I don’t see the benefit in restricting screen time if at that moment it is the only tool you have to calm. That being said, transitioning to interactive activities that involve others is going to be important. OT, sensory integration work, etc. being so important.
It is still also important to use basic good parenting. Tell them you love them just for being here in the world. Explain that we all have to do certain things to get what we want, then illustrate this. Teach, train, and always do so with love and affirmation that you love them just for being alive and in your life.
- How do video games affect kids health long-term both physically and emotionally?
A: DEPENDS! Those who are very mild ASD, and spend all their time playing shoot them and kill them games, I don’t see any benefit and I see lots of potential harm. What are they really learning? Violence solves problems right? On the other hand, for a severe child who is playing an educational game and finds this calming and learns from it, this should be a great effect.