Research finds that video games hold both risks and rewards for children with Autism

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One in 88 children in America have a disorder that falls somewhere on the Autism Spectrum according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These range from conditions like the high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome to pervasive developmental disorders. With autism diagnoses rising at an incredible rate in recent decades, it’s been more important than ever to identify effective methods for helping to educate and socialize those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Based on new research conducted at the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri’s Thompson Center, video games could be a powerful tool in reaching children diagnosed with an ASD – but the data so far compiled demonstrates that games also carry some risks.

Assistant professor Micah Mazurek recently conducted a study of 202 children diagnosed with ASD alongside 179 of their respective siblings to determine which types of screen-based media (television, video games, other computer software, and web-based entertainment) they respond to. Mazurek observed a demonstrable link between children with ASD and games.

“We found that children with ASD spent more time playing video games than typically developing children, and they are much more likely to develop problematic or addictive patterns of video game play,” said Dr. Mazurek.

“Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away. However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual reality environments would translate into actual social interactions.”

The primary conclusion of Mazurek’s most recent study is that there is a need for more study into how those with ASD interact with video games, and what social skills they take away from gaming. As obsessive behavior is a common characteristic of ASD, children with disorders are also possibly more susceptible to game addiction. “Parents need to be aware that, although video games are especially reinforcing for children with ASD, children with ASD may also have problems disengaging from these games.”

As detailed in a new report by National Public Radio’s Lauren Silverman though, video games can be an important outlet for those with ASD even after childhood. “[Those with ASD} may really flourish at engineering-type tasks or computer design, where their interaction with people is somewhat limited,” says Dr. Patricia Evans of Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. It’s because of that propensity that Gary Moore and Dan Sellic opened the nonParelli Institute, an educational institute and software company that exclusively works with ASD employees. 

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