A lot has been said about video games over the years. They have been called addictive and harmful to children and adults, but this is not necessarily true for everyone. In fact, many people on the autism spectrum can benefit greatly from picking up a video game controller and playing to their heart’s desire. How? Here are some of the ways:
As technology advances, more video games that connect you to other users all over the world are being introduced on the market. These video games, such as World of Warcraft, allow individuals on the spectrum to learn new social skills because it eliminates the need for intimidating face-to-face interactions. Video gamers can learn to communicate with others in a less threatening way, and they also don’t have to think of things to talk about, since they share one common interest: the game.
People on the autism spectrum often fear or experience extreme stress over making mistakes in life. But, everyone makes mistakes while playing video games—if you didn’t, you would immediately win the game and that wouldn’t be fun at all. Allowing individuals with autism to play video games helps them become more comfortable with the idea of not being perfect, which is a beneficial skill to carry over to the real world.
Many people on the spectrum often lack motor skills, but they can improve upon them by simply playing video games that require physical movement. Gaming systems such as the Nintendo Wii require you to act out the actions you want your virtual character to make in the game, so gamers have to learn how to control their bodies. Other games, such as those involving a touchscreen, can help people on the spectrum with their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Individuals with autism may be rigid in the way they approach problems and how they go about their day-to-day routines. Many teachers and therapists who work with individuals with autism focus on trying to get them to become more flexible and accepting of changes in their environment, and one way to do so is with video games. Gamers will quickly learn they must adapt their strategy with each new level of the game, otherwise they won’t be able to move past it. Each new level or round of video games usually presents a unique challenge, which forces the gamer to think on his or her toes to come up with a solution to the problem. Putting children or adults with autism in these situations will be uncomfortable for them at first, but if they want to continue playing the game, they will have no choice but to become more flexible in their way of thinking. Over time, this will help individuals improve their problem-solving skills and handle change more gracefully in the real world.
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. @HilaryS33