Gaming with Autism, Let's Discuss!
The CDC just released some new information saying that 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This percentage is higher than the last numbers given, which means that autism is on the rise. Now those numbers only show the children that are being diagnosed, and not the numbers of people or families that are being impacted by ASD.
If 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed, then at least 1 in 68 families are impacted by this. What about extended family that is involved? So maybe 1 in 50 families total is a conservative figure. The point is, there are a lot of people who have some sort of ties to ASD.
I am one of those families. My oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at about age 5. He is now 14 years old. It's been a long journey but I'll save that story for a different time and a different website.
Gaming and ASD
If you've met someone with ASD, you know that everyone is different. It's the reason ASD is a spectrum and not just a straight disorder. There are, however, many similarities as well. In Asperger's, one of those is finding a hobby that interest them. When they do, they end up investing a lot of time in that hobby and learn every little nuance they can. My son has done just that with Minecraft.
More importantly he is a very different person when he is playing. He plays by himself quite a bit, but he also plays online on a variety of servers. During this time he has developed friendships with a few people in a few different countries.
If you know ASD, you know how incredible this is. A common theme among ASD is social skills, or the lack of.
I think the anonymity of being online helps break down those social barriers and reduces the anxiety of talking to someone. This is a very good thing in helping build better social skills in a child with ASD. He can actually talk to people and not worry about eye contact or can drop out of a conversation whenever he wants without that awkwardness of just walking away from someone mid sentence. That's something we all wouldn't mind at some point!
Calling all Gamers
So the question I have for you guys and gals: do you have an ASD gamer in your family or are you, yourself, on the spectrum and a gamer? If yes, what game(s) do they/you play and have you noticed the same increase in social capabilities?
I ran into a company last year at PAXEast that was developing software for eye-tracking capabilities; are there any companies that are focusing on other disabilities or disorders? Should there be?
I don't necessarily enjoy the thought of my son sitting in front of a computer all day (not that I haven't done it myself) but when he is able to interact with others in a way that is very rare, I find it hard to complain. My goal is to take him to MineCon in the very near future as a kind of award for taking a big social leap forward. Maybe we will see some of you there!