Written by Faiz Danyal
Video games have become a medium of entertainment that provide endless hours of enjoyment, be it for adults or children. According to the Entertainment Software Association, in 2018, there were over 164 million adults all over the United States playing video games and three quarters of all Americans have at least one game in the household. Be it a game console, personal computer or mobile phone, video games are able to provide mental stimulation to gamers and even relieve stress. However, when parents see their children with autism playing their favorite games all the time, they might be worried about the implications from video games. According to a research, 41.4% of children and adolescents with autism enjoy playing video games during their free time in comparison to 18% of youths in general. Therefore, it is important to observe the effects of video games towards autistic gamers. The purpose of this article is to discuss whether video games provide benefits for autistic children or will video games create a major burden for parents to control their children’s addiction.
According to a research, social interactions can be improved for autistic individuals using video games with online capability. Multiplayer-enabled video games can improve social connections for autistic gamers. For example, they are able to connect with friends and family by sharing the game experience together and meet with friends who live far away in an immersive multiplayer environment. They can even make new friends. At the same time, face-to-face interactions are encouraged further since autistic players are able to recognize each other better the longer their game sessions. With the power of live streaming of video game sessions thanks to Twitch, Mixer and other streaming platforms, gamers are able to recognize who they are playing with and are able to chat with other gamers face-to-face. Finally, autistic players are able to converse about video games in an environment that is more socially friendly.
The benefits of video games within autistic children can also be seen through an increase in their postural stability. Individuals with autistic spectrum disorder tend to struggle in postural stability based on the severity of their disability. The timing of the plateau within the postural development in ASD will impact the development of independent-living skills during adolescence and adulthood. For instance, those with ASD might struggle with daily activities such as carrying their groceries, fixing their motor vehicles or driving their car if their postural stability is not properly developed. Recently, several video games, including the Nintendo Wii Fit, have utilized fitness-based training to improve postural balance. These types of fitness games have shown to be beneficial in improving body posture for children with ASD which leads to better motor skills. Furthermore, video game training may be beneficial in pediatric training as seen in children with cerebral palsy who are able to improve their postural stability using WiiFit games.
On the other hand, children with autism could also be at risk of preoccupation with their favorite video games if they are not managed properly. Researchers have discovered that those with Autism have struggled to disengage with their favorite video games by ignoring any social interactions or obligation. Autistic gamers also tend to have more problematic use with playing video games as compared to normal gamers. For instance, autistic children have a higher tendency to be influenced by the actions of the characters in the game such as shooting enemies with a gun. Since autistic children have a higher sense of curiosity, they might copy the actions of the characters in the game that could potentially hurt others. Furthermore, depression and anxiety can be associated with video game addiction based on a cross-sectional study. In typical cases, school students with autism usually turn on their game consoles to relieve their stress after doing homework. However, as time progresses, the research indicates that autistic gamers’ stress levels become higher as they want to complete certain missions or achieve a high score.
In conclusion, there are two sides of the coin in terms of how video games are affecting autistic children psychologically and emotionally. Numerous research papers have either thought video games to be a factor that caused autistic children to misbehave while some find that video games could be beneficial for the development of autistic children in the long run. Parents should be aware of both the positive and negative consequences of video games on their child’s long-term development and make informed decisions. Set up an allocated amount of time for your child to play video games based on your child’s psychological and mental conditions while not forgetting to spend more time with your children and make every second count in enjoying life together. It’s important to strike a balance between spending quality time together and allowing your child to play video games.
If you are interested to explore this topic further, here are some recommendations;
Gonzalez-Sanchez, J.L., Cabrera, M., Vela, F.L.G. (2007). Using Videogames in Special Education. Towards a Theory for Preservation in the Field of System Specification With Focus on Digital Archives; 360 - 367. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221432555_Using_Videogames_in_Special_Education
Knorr, C. (2016). 5 Ways Video Games Can Help Kids with Special Needs. Common Sense Media. Link: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/5-ways-video-games-can-help-kids-with-special-needs
Garcia-Redondo, P., Garcia, T., Areces, D., Núñez, J. C., Rodríguez, C. (2019). Serious Games and Their Effect Improving Attention in Students with Learning Disabilities. Int J Environ Res Public Health; 16(14): 2480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6679141/
Video Games for Special Children. The Video Game Approach. https://tvgapproach.com/video-games-to-special-children/
Griffiths, M. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames. Education and Health; 20 (3), 47 - 51. https://sheu.org.uk/sheux/EH/eh203mg.pdf
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