We often hear in the press that children and young people are spending too much time playing computer games. Yet a recent piece of research from the University of Missouri has identified that for individuals who are autistic gaming can be something that not only can be highly enjoyable and that they can be good at but that can also have additional benefits.
- Games offer visually stimulating virtual environments. This plays to some potential strengths that some individuals who are autistic may have such as pattern recognition and attention to detail. In other words, the nature of many games plays to these strengths this enables individuals to be very good gamers and achieve success which is then quickly rewarded within the game. This can build confidence and self-esteem.
- Games are imaginative, but with a well-defined structure. Games allow for the use of imagination but because they are structured often don’t require the player to generate the same level of creative ideas. The scene has already been set within the context and environment of the game. There are choices and decisions that influence the game and the individual’s pathway through the game, but the framework is already in place. For individuals that may find generating creative ideas from scratch challenging this framework acts as scaffolding on which to build their own ideas and develop skills in this area.
- Video games are more predictable and controllable. Games have rules and parameters. Therefore, operating within these rules and parameters often appeals to those who enjoy order. Again, there is a clear framework within the virtual environment. This can reduce the anxiety that is experienced within the real world that is inherently unpredictable. In a game if the player does x then y is highly likely to happen.
- Video games have clear expectations and allow for repetition. Many games follow a pattern. Although the pattern may vary it is largely consistent. Additionally, if you get it wrong you can play it again until you get it right. Video games don’t judge you as a person if you get something wrong they don’t make you feel socially uncomfortable! Gaming enables individuals to practice and develop their skills through repetition but in an environment that is a safe and non-judgemental space. There is often no limit on how much you can repeat or practice something until you get it right. The feedback in a game is often unambiguous.
- Games have visual and auditory stimulus that are controllable by the user. Some individuals may have heightened sensitivity to visual and auditory stimulus. In the real world these are often not within the control of individuals. In a game the player is in control. If things become overwhelming they can step away or utilise other strategies. This can reduce anxiety and provide a feeling of being in control, something that individuals may lack in their daily lives.
At I-AM we have found that gaming is not only for entertainment, but we have also seen it used as a communication tool that also initiates friendship bonds within the peer groups. Gaming can also be a way for the individual to express themselves using a non-verbal platform and can also be used for reducing anxiety and stress levels. Within I-AM the individual knows that they are in a safe and friendly environment where they are not judged by their peers and are able to relax and enjoy the experience and share that experience with others.