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Autism Spectrum Disorder: How Video Games Can Help

Video games can be a source of learning for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Video games can be a source of improvement and a source of danger for those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

It is a general term for a group of complex brain disorders.  Many people diagnosed with ASD have varying degrees of difficulty in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

All forms of Autism merged into this single term in May of 2013.

How can video games help with ASD?  

Video games are the preferred type of play for children with ASD.  There are legitimate concerns that some children with ASD can become overly involved in games, but the same can be said of any child.  Experts recognize that video games are beneficial for children with ASD.

children with autism video games

Dr.s Finke and Hickerson recently conducted a study on the perception of parents who have children with ASD about their children's video game usage. The study showed that over 50% of parents in the study had generally positive attitudes about their children with ASD playing video games. They found that parents believed that video games help improve social skills, fine motor skills, language skills, reading and writing skills, and critical thinking abilities in their children. 

They said that say that they think it is a good indicator that parents would be supportive of the use of video games to help their children learn new skills.

“We believe this is a good indicator that parents of children with ASD would be supportive of the use of video games in educational and therapeutic contexts to help their children learn new skills. It encourages us to continue to explore the potential of video game play for learning for children with ASD.”

As a parent with a child that has ASD, I have often wondered how my son's playing online games affect his behavior. In the game environment, he can get away from a world of too much stimulation.  He goes in his own world and unwinds in his own way. With online games he can have social interaction; granted, some of that interaction can be negative, that is why as a parent I need to limit what he sees and does in small ways.  How much time he plays is also a factor.  He needs to play the games but at the same time he shouldn't play for hours without some sort of break.  His break time needs to be filled with activities that meet the needs he finds in the game.

A few recommended games for children with ASD

I am finding that few games are designed for people with ASD, but many games help promote skills of self-awareness, flexibility, and self-control. These are all important skills that are often areas of difficulty for those diagnosed with ASD.  Some of the popular games that can help people with ASD are:

  • Minecraft - A safe setting in which people with ASD can practice social interaction. The game encourages cooperation and communication.  It can also help with self-control, how their action affect others and themselves, goal setting, and flexibility.  This game is for Android, PS3, PS4, Playstation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux, and iOS.
  • If... - This game helps children exercise their social and emotional learning skills and the in-game lessons are easily translated to the real-world.  The outcome of the story depends on the child's choices that make inside the game. This game is available on the iPad.
  • New Super Mario Bros. U - This game uses the console's motion sensor peripherals.  It exercises the child's motor skills, and it challenges players to work cooperatively to complete the given tasks.  It is available on the Wii U.
  • Portal 2 -  This game is like Minecraft in a way that it helps encourage experimentation and flexibility.  It has a cooperative play feature that offers the players the opportunity to exercise communication and social skills, self-awareness, and self-control. This game is available on Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Linux.
  • Draw Something 2 - This is a mobile game that uses touchscreens.  It is ideal for fine motor skill development.  The game is similar to Pictionary, and it challenges players to draw the terms, phrases and references that they are given.  They need to draw it clearly so their partners can answer correctly.  It is available on Android, iPad, iPhone, and iPod.

As a parent, I need to mention that parents should be actively involved in their children's gaming.  It doesn't matter if they don't have ASD.  If you take part in the games they play and play with them, they will have a much more enjoyable experience and be able to learn a lot more than they could on their own.

Published Apr. 13th 2015

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