Video Games and Autism, ASD, ADD, ADHD

video GamersI 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. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


  1. 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.


Dr. Paul




  • Melody

    Thank you for your advice. Both of my sons, who will be 7 and 9 this fall, have Sensory Processing Disorder. The youngest has ADHD & the eldest has G.A.D. They both have told me that using their tablet to watch You Tube videos or to play Talking Tom, which has them caring for a cartoon cat, helps them to be calm. They focus in on it and really drown out all other distractions. BUT…. they have major problems getting off of the tablet, sometimes throwing fits, sneaking it back, taking my phone to get back online, and really having to go through withdrawal when I take it away. I wish the darn things had timers, that just shut the tablets off, so I didn’t have to battle with both of them continuously.
    It really doesn’t matter if it’s a cell phone, a tablet, or the lap top. They even jump on a family friend’s lap top, to play games.
    They are not violent games. Mostly educational, like PBSKIDS.ORG
    But, it’s seriously getting to be addictive.
    They say No Thank You, when I offer to take them to the amusement park/water park, bc they are so focused on the screen.
    I don’t let them watch cable TV, bc everything is morally disgusting and not made for children. Except PBS.
    EVERYTHING in moderation.
    It’s nice to know that some screen time, like tablets, really are calming my sons, like they claim.

  • anita3kids

    There are tablets like Kindle that have child timers on them .If you own one,check the “Settings or Help” section .
    Have you tried prior to handing the device over saying “We are going on an adventure today at the …” You can play in the car ,but when we get there, we can’t take them in” , “We are going to have fun at the …”
    Offer them a special treat if they cooperate. Doesn’t have to be candy . Maybe 5 additional playing Talking Tom the nxt day?
    Did you ever try an egg timer & let THEM set it?
    Do they like repetitive movements? They can use Legos etc & see who can build the tallest or widest…

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