Does it seem like your child with Asperger’s is always playing video games? You are not alone! There is a very real connection between a diagnosis of Asperger’s and the use of video games. But this connection between your child and his or her game collection may not be what you think it is.
It isn’t an “addiction” (Tiffany Cook)
Psychology Today defines addiction as:
a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences
However, research shows that using the words “video game addiction” and Asperger’s in the same sentence may be a misnomer. In other words, it may not be an addiction but a misguided attempt to alleviate feelings of anxiety, of loneliness and of being overwhelmed. Put simply, the person with Asperger’s or ASD who is showing signs of what people call “video game addiction” – that is, sitting in front of the video screen seemingly fixated on the game while caring nothing for what is going on around him or her for hours and hours – is actually what is called defense mode. They are trying to deal with feelings of fear, of anxiety, of anger against threats in their environment. Those “threats” can be real or perceived. But, what the person with Asperger’s or ASD and who is perceived as a video game “junkie” is really craving is connection and a situation that he or she believes they can control.
Consequently, the best way to address the so-called video game “addiction” is to play video games with them. In other words, address their “addiction” with connection. I know that when my son, who has high-functioning ASD, spends too much time in front of my iPad screen watching YouTube videos, he becomes irritable, over-stimulated, and unfocused. Getting him away from the screens for relationally-rich activities such as going outside to play with him, playing board games with him, reading to him, and even doing homeschool work with him gets him back on the right track with the world around him.
It is important to remember that people with Asperger’s and ASD are just that, people. Like any other, they desire love, acceptance and relationships of varying types. It’s no surprise that when I put forth the extra effort to connect with my son, his agitation level decreases dramatically; it is not hard to tear him away from the screens with no resistance.
Look for the positive (Kereth Harris)
Like any child, rules and expectations around gaming and technology need to be set and followed through on. I know this is super difficult, but it is super super important. With all the hype around screen time, you are probably feeling a bit guilty that your ASD person spends more time than most in front of a screen.
Instead of beating yourself up, look at the positive. There is something that they really enjoy doing. It is giving them skills and expertise that will at some point be useful in social interactions as they will be viewed as an expert. They feel safe in this space – they know the rules and how to follow them. Online games actually provide our ASD kids with opportunities to socialize and make connections with people all over the world who share their interests. Video gaming is not all bad. Make the rules, stick to them, and become involved in your child’s gaming life and world.
Video games are a coping mechanism (Lesley Scott)
Video games are often extremely appealing to Asperger’s children (and adults) who may play excessively. Studies have shown that this may not be an addiction, but rather a coping mechanism. Playing games allows a player to disconnect from the real world, release tension from dealing with real world anxiety and stimulation, and because it is a solitary activity, no social interaction is required. Gaming also usually takes place where the player feels safe and comfortable, such as their bedroom.
Strike a balance (Amanda Whittington)
Children with Asperger’s have a special ability to hyper-focus on things they are interested in. Because their brains need extra stimulation, they are drawn to video games with quick action, intensity, and fast moving scenes. When a child with Asperger’s is playing video games, they may seem to zone out, be in another world, or simply not hear you. It’s ok for them to use video games for stress relief and fun. We all need to break away from our electronic devices, though, and get some physical activity. Make family time, reading, and physical activity fun to help your child with Asperger’s enjoy them, as well.