Are Video Games Good or Bad for Autistic Children?
There is an ongoing discussion as to whether video games are good for children with autism. There is no right or wrong answer and this is a subject that is open for discussion. Autistic children can be strongly drawn to gaming and they can spend excessive amounts of time online. This can result in becoming socially withdrawn or obsessive. On the flip side gaming can be a benefit to autistic children, when used in moderation. The pros and cons are different for collaborative and solo gaming so we look at each separately.
Collaborative Video Games
Some autistic children struggle with face to face communication because of sensory issues. For these children, playing popular collaborative video games can be very useful for building communication skills with their peers. It provides them with some interaction with their peers which has to be better than no interaction at all. Even for those children who can cope with face to face interaction to at least a certain extent, collaborative online gaming can provide further scope for building communication skills via a shared interest and without the complications of face to face interaction.
Video games provide autistic children with an opportunity for joint attention and a common interest with other people. By playing multiplayer online games such as Roblox or Minecraft, children who usually struggle to communicate or are unaware of social cues can communicate with other players of the game. This may include agreeing specific strategies, which will help them build valuable group interaction skills and group problem solving skills. Even if they just chat, they are building skills, in an environment that is easier for them to cope with.
Collaborative online gaming can help an autistic child feel less isolated. It can provide them a way of connecting and maintaining a connection with cousins who live too far away to visit often, for example. As the world become more digital and online meetings become more ubiquitous, playing collaborative video games, can help a child build valuable skills for future work.
It should be noted that there are autistic adults who work from home and who make a living purely via online communication. This can include activities that most people would think have to be face to face such as teaching how to play musical instruments to autistic children (who appreciate the online teaching medium).
Solo Video Games (and solo use of collaborative video games)
Solo video games can be very fun and engaging. Children use them as a distraction or to help them wind down after a busy and likely stressful day at school. Some children with autism don't enjoy outdoor games or games that involve interaction such as football. They much prefer playing video games on their own.
However, solo video games instead of being calming can also wind children up. They are not a good escape for a child who is upset, angry, or frustrated because they are more likely to worsen these negative emotions than to calm the child. It is better for the child to find a more constructive way of dealing with these negative emotions. If video games are used as an escape from difficulties, then they can become addictive if the difficulties are never faced and dealt with. This can lead to isolation, and eventually refusal to leave the house.
A child may also channel their emotions to become emotionally involved with the game to the point where they are unable to stop playing the game and may react badly when called for a meal or other family activity.
Parents need to be cautious about the possibility of inattention, behavioral issues, or possible addiction to video games. There are simple solutions to help autistic children get the most out of video games without creating other issues. There are many games that are useful for autistic children such as encouraging the development of problem-solving skills.
Autistic children can become so focused on video game play that they refuse to do any other activity. Parents have observed their autistic children becoming so engaged in a video game play, that they have become inattentive or obsessed with playing certain games.
We know that connecting with others and spending quality time with family, sleeping and eating well and doing regular physical exercise and getting outdoors are all important for a young person’s wellbeing. If someone is regularly gaming in a way that stops them from doing these things, this could be a key reason why it starts to negatively affect their mental health and wellbeing.
The key is moderation and monitoring. It is best to limit all video games to a specific time frame so children can get the best out of gaming without becoming isolated and to prevent other issues from occurring, it is vital to ensure that your child has constructive outlets for negative emotions and that they are given plenty of support for dealing with problems in the real world.
Video game time can also be used as a reward for completing a certain task, such as getting all their homework done leading to bonus extra time.
Temple Grandin, who has been diagnosed with autism herself, said she saw the negative impact of video game playing (see Autism advocate Temple Grandin says video games can negatively impact people with autism - ABC News): "We've got to limit the screen time unless they're doing a college class online or something like that." Temple Grandin described that what she saw was that the kids who learnt how to work before they graduated from high school, were doing ok and the ones who haven't learnt how to work, were getting addicted to video games and once they are playing the games its extremely hard to get them off of them.
She describes that she knew an autistic child that plays video games all day, he is so anxious when he stays out of his room for just a little while, it leads to panic attacks.
Professor Grandin said while she did not believe in banning video games completely, she felt children should only have access to them for one hour a day.
It is important to make sure that children are not using video games to escape from struggles they are facing. It may make them feel better while they are playing the game, but it is not a long-term solution. It is vital the problems are faced and dealt with. It is vital that your child learns to deal constructively with emotions. Face to Face time is also important if it can be tolerated, but it depends on the individual.
Have a conversation with your child to understand what they are getting out of video gaming. Show an interest in the games they are playing and even get them to show you how to do it. Recognise the benefits, but also be aware of the pitfalls and monitor their use. Find ways of helping your child to deal with emotions. Do activities together that help your child to share what difficulties they are facing. This will help prevent the pitfalls and enable you to monitor what is going on before it gets out of hand.
Be aware that playing video games for an hour or so before bed can impact sleeping issues. The light and emotional engagement. is known to make people feel more energised, This can make the person find it difficult to switch off and relax, resulting in finding it difficult to sleep.
Teen age years can be particularly difficult in this respect. It is important to keep the channels of communication open and to try to ensure that your teenager has a varied programme of activities that they enjoy. Encourage them to help others.
Aspiedent can Help
We have a service that helps gets to the root of the issues around Autism with suggested interventions of what may help in school and at home. This is an autism profile. Example autism profiles can be found on our website. Autism Profiles are potentially life changing for the better because they help the both the person and those around them to understand their individual autistic difficulties.
If you are interested in having an autism profile, please do get in touch by emailing us at email@example.com