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Autism Behavior Problems Linked To Video Game Play

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Lots of kids like video games, but new research suggests that for those with autism, play can be problematic.

In a study looking at 169 boys with autism ages 8 to 18, researchers found that playing video games — especially certain types — was linked to oppositional behaviors like arguing and not following instructions.

“Children with ASD may be attracted to video games because they can be rewarding, visually engaging and do not require face-to-face communication or social interaction,” said Micah Mazurek of the University of Missouri who led the study published recently in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. “Parents need to be aware that, although video games are especially reinforcing for children with ASD, children with ASD may have problems disengaging from these games.”

For the study, researchers asked parents how much time their kids spent playing video games, what type of games they liked to play and about their behavioral functioning.

While the amount of time that a child with autism played video games did not appear to be associated with their behavior, the types of games they chose were. Most strikingly, boys who engaged in role-playing games had significantly more oppositional behaviors, the study found. By contrast, children who played sports games, for example, displayed fewer such behaviors and less hyperactivity than other gamers with the developmental disorder.

Mazurek said that more research is needed to better understand whether gaming is sparking tendencies toward problem behaviors or if children with such issues are drawn to particular types of games. Regardless, she said that clinicians and researchers ought to consider using the affinity for video games among those with autism to their advantage by finding ways to use the technology for therapeutic gains.

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Comments (18 Responses)

  1. Rick says:

    What about those who don’t play video game or were born before the age of video games?

  2. Whitney says:

    First all there are couple problems with the study. One is we do not know overall effect with children and video games in general. This includes children with autism and neuro typicals. The other thing is the benefit of the video games depends on the game that is being played. The other problem with study is that how much oppositional behavior is normal part of growing up. I mean that the children should have some oppositional behavior and not always follow instructions that what we call going through growing pains. The abstract said there is oppositional behavior but not give examples where is unusual and abnormal. I am not going there is no link to behavior problems and I think there is but this study does not address the impact of video games on society as whole. It pick one group and there is no comparison to society as whole. Also there is a gender biased some of the video gamers I know are also female. I mean it is like linking Grand Theft Auto to criminal behavior but they never establish who is playing the game.

    The first part of video games is that parents are the ultimate word how much and what games are being played. If child behaves badly take the game away simple as that. I know neuro-typical children exhibit the same oppositional behavior as the autistic but they channel it better. If a parent of the autisitic wants child to be more able to cope with social settings then they have provide social setting. Most parents I find that easier to isolate a child instead of socializing them because they are different. It will take more effort to socializing but the gaming is the one way it can be done.

  3. Sarah says:

    A neuro typical kid can be inflenced just as much as a child with autism can be influenced by video games. this is just common sense. Besides game content, the main thing to watch out for in children with autism is sensory overload which can lead to meltdowns.

  4. patm says:

    On the other side of the coin these games also increase focus ability and teach observation skills so lacking in those with autism.

  5. Tacitus says:

    Did it strike anyone else that the games rated as “problematic” were RPG’s, which are somewhat less mainstream than sports? It seems like an odd coincidence to me.

  6. Whitney says:

    Tacitus no it didn’t. There is a lot of things I don’t like in this study and that is one of them. The jury is still out on what the effect of RPG on Neuro-typicals as well. The more realistic the RPG are the harder it is to separate reality. I am referring to some modern time setting in RPG which is the stuff I don’t play. My preference is to fantasy and science fiction that does not reflect RPG. If I want to fantasize about a fake life I prefer to have least realistic as possible in the setting of the game. The more the RPG that reflects the current or modern world harder it is to think this is not real. I mean like Black-OPs and Grand Theft Auto are some the games for me are just to realistic in the settings and story of the game. It is the reason as a gamer the parents need to become more pro-active in care of the children. I know parents of neuro-typicals children put them in front of TV to have M-TV raise them.

  7. Michele Renee says:

    a study of 169 wow…that really proves something. 1 in 50 Children and Adults have Autism or some form of it, how about the research being geared towards what CAUSES ASD instead of further discrimination against those who have it? To suggest that video games cause oppositional behaviors, is like “not saying” that the television or media is responsible for the perpetual violence that the public is fed daily. It is a fine line between what has been created of our own doing and then turning it around onto society and blaming those with any conditions upon such that was created. Find the Cause not the scapegoat or smokescreens

  8. Joan McGinn says:

    The results of this research are not surprising in many ways, and I’m glad that researchers are investigating activities which might be harmful to children on the Autism Spectrum. However, I have some concerns that this research may be interpreted by some novice people, or inaccurately reported in the media, that violent role-playing games CAUSE autism in some children, which is not the case. As someone who has been involved with working with people for a long time, I have heard many people over the years attribute causal relationships for autism to things like too much TV or videogames, lack of playing outside, etc. While these cultural trends (excessiveTV watching, video gaming, inside play, etc.) may not be good for chidren, these activities in themselves do NOT cause autism.

  9. Kiwismommy says:

    Last time I checked “Arguing and not following directions” were not behaviors limited to Autism. Sounds like “childhood syndrome spectrum” to me. I have a daughter with Autism who loves video games. They helped her to bond with my father as he taught her to play and toward the end of his life she helped him with video games. She has learned a lot of life information and skills from video games. They have helped with eye-hand coordination. They give her comfort in stressful times and a place to escape. Video games have helped her socially as kids talk about, share, and even play each other. She is so good that typical children like to play her and interact even if she kicks their butts. They give us something to withold when there are serious discipline issues and it is very effective. I can think of 100 positives that video games have given my daughter and not one negative. This is really a stretch, why did they bother with this again? Are there reallly not more important things to be studied in Autism?

  10. F Dang says:

    It’s an interesting article but very vague. One doesn’t know how this study was set up. When the speak about Autistic individuals, who are they describing, since Autism is now more of a spectrum disorder. My son, who has Autism” was a spinner, did lots of repetitive behavior (and still does), has very restictive interests ( and still does ) and had lots of echolalia. he was very rule bound and when told to stop a preferred activity would freak-out. I limited what he saw on TV or what video games he could play. He had a habit of mimicking what he saw and a couple of times he almost got himself punched by neuro-typical kids because of what he did. Such as copying the 3 Stooges where someone hits his hand and he ends up bobbing the kid on the head. This happened in intermediate school. Another thing that he did was to memorize different games, such as Mario brothers and would play what he saw on TV in his head. Like playing a video tape in his head. It got to a point that if he was allowed to continue playing the tape in his head another person could start seeing his body, arms and legs, slowly start to move like the characters that he was enacting in his head. This could occur at high noon, Saturday, at the local shopping center.
    I’ve seen this occur in other individuasl who have been diagnosed with Autism and I’ve seen alot of kids with this diagnosis.

    It would have been really good to see how this study was made and how they defined and controlled the various variables. When a child with Autism self-stims it cuts out the time where they can learn and yes sometimes its ok for the child to self-stim, I believe it provides some comfort to them.

  11. Whitney says:

    The problem is also brought up the child’s intelligence capability. ASD has wide range of intelligence such Aspergers to Autism which brings up different needs and wants.

  12. pat m says:

    There are also studies that show that video games increase focus and concentration. Video games are here to stay and the smarter science is aimed at developing games to assist those with autism to develop coping skills and increase their ability to function in the community.

  13. Viki G. says:

    It would be irresponsible not to consider in this study the fact that many children on the spectrum have no other interactive outlet besides video games, as making and keeping friends is a key difficulty for our kiddos. The phone isn’t ringing for play dates, the invitations for birthday parties aren’t coming in the mail, they play alone on a playground full of kids trying to avoid them. At least a video game will keep them happy for a bit while mom tries to get dinner on the table.

  14. F Dang says:

    If your child has difficulty with language, receptive/expressive, which a lot of children with Autism has, video games would be a detriment to their learning language. Social interaction, where language develops, would be a better environment for the child.

    Mental capabilities of an individual with ASD is important, but it shouldn’t be defined by one’s diagnosis, Asperger’s or Autism. Children with Asperger’s, there mental capabilities tend to be average. There is a higher percentage of children with Autism who are also diagnosed with Intellectual Disabilities. At the same time there are children with the diagnosis of Autism with high IQ’s. My son, for instance, has a full scale IQ of 119 (average is 100). His verbal IQ is in the high 80′s to low 90′s. Demonstrating a problem with his receptive/language. Even with his high IQ the difficulties associated with Autism continues to get in his way. If you ever meet Temple Grandin you’ll see the same thing occurring.

  15. Whitney says:

    Problem is what kind of games they are playing. Not all games are created equal in social and cognitive. If I was developing SIMS which means simulated social situation can be created to interact correct manner. If anything it is a tool that needs to be supervise. I mean I played game call Pokemon on a DS that is rated E but I would never use it to train a person with Autism interact in social manner. Even Yugioh on DS or other format is does not promote social skills. If you want to train a child to act socially is through a SIM an simulated social environment. Language development can be done speech therapist and language program. It takes a bit of research to find the right game that suited for a child. Even then the game will never be prefect solution or a golden bullet.

  16. Lisa says:

    It is true that Autism has many spectrums. Life is a transition for them in all aspects. The study isn’t picking on Autism it is making statements that have some truth to them. My grandson has more then Autism, he is Bi-polar, Developmentally Delayed and holds the Autism spectrum. He also has ADHD. He is a loaded package. Video games can be helpful but they should never take the place of teaching life skills. He uses them a lot in stressful situations as well a calming effects. It isn’t all bad, but you should listen to your child’s psychiatrist. It was recommended not to make to many hrs. or a whole day of it. Reward time for good behaviors is always a great time to use the games as a reward. I prefer not to let him focus all day. He tends to want to over hyper focus and doesn’t let go easy. It truly depends on the child and every case is special. No bad behaviors should be rewarded even in a the use of video games. He was more into bad behavior when he was younger. He now is 13 and the teens are the problem along with the hormones. He has let go a lot of the video stuff and is focusing more on social. It is like any child with phases. They need to grow with good rules and guidance. Everything in moments not in miles. I am still learning and I am his grandmother. He wasn’t born with a hand book and even if he was it would read the one thing that we have in our lives, love and patience. If it isn’t video games it will be another thing. Life for an Autistic child or an adult is not easy. Everyday is a struggle and I have seen many hurdles this child has overcome with good guidance and understanding of how to deal with each moment. I do believe that we as people can be influenced even with something simple as music. It can be a mood enhanced experience and I believe TV and video games are all in the line of fire. People can be brain washed as the saying would be. If you see something at least 5 times it suppose to stick in your mind. Well I do believe that many things influence our behaviors and you don’t have to be Autistic for that to be true. What is normal for one is not for the other; the testing could have been done on a wider scale. I think that we can be influenced by daily life and it is what makes us decide which way to go on an issue. For Autism making good choices are set by visual and verbal reinforcements. Video games of any kind should be played with in reason. Everything in increments not miles.

  17. Karen Williams says:

    Our son has ADHD and Aspergers i have had an addiction to his game playing as much as he as i get some peace
    I have told him he cant play his google pad in the week its now day 2 but although he is playing with his play station now he his playing with his sister she is 6 he is 8 they are talking together and laughing wow normally hes in his room alone playing minecraft
    He has no interest in family activities normally so Im happy for this one small interaction with his sister who misses him since the arrival of his tablet.

  18. La la says:

    The title is wrong it should be roll playing games are bad for autistics not video games. I found video games helpful. I use video games as a reward for good behavior.
    I don’t allow RPGs though. I don’t allow games in the bedroom or basement.
    I don’t allow mature games.

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