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.”

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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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