Video Games Used to Enhance Skills of Those with Autism

Autism and Gaming

An eleven-year-old autistic boy in Edgewood, Washington with a keen interest for X-Box games, was recently labeled a ¨Cheater¨ by Microsoft for allegedly tampering with his account to boost his gaming scores.  This comes from a boy who didn’t play basketball because he believed taking the ball was stealing, so seeing the word ¨Cheater¨ beside his name and losing his gaming achievements was particularly devastating.

His mother contacted Microsoft, who stood by their assertion. Apparently, the ¨Halo¨ whiz had given his login information to a third party who likely boosted his scores. 

The right thing to do would be to remove the label, restore his legitimate achievements, give him a new username and password, and educate him (and others) about the need to keep information private. But Microsoft insisted on treating this case as they would any other.

This disheartening event calls to mind the general issue of gaming as a whole. 

Parents of children with autism are usually uneasy to see their already-isolated children consumed with video games for hours-on-end in front of a TV screen.

But researchers are beginning to see that quality in a different light, capitalizing on an autistic child’s extreme focus, adeptness with computers, and love of repetition as a teaching tool.

Enter John Lester, creator of ¨Brigadoon," an online game specifically for those with autism. 

He describes his creation at Braintalk:

“The idea is to create a private haven where people dealing with Asperger’s/Autism can practice their socialization skills in an environment where everyone knows everyone else. People dealing with Asperger’s/Autism sometimes have real difficulty dealing with social situations, and they are often filled with great creative ideas. Brigadoon gives them a place to meet other people also dealing with Asperger’s/Autism, a place to socialize with each other, and a place to build and create their own world filled with wonder and beauty.” 
In January 2011, MNSBC reported that researchers across the globe are now developing more and more video games for autistics. 

A multimedia, computer-based game designed to teach facial processing skills is in the works under the title ¨Let’s Face It." As a suite of mini-games, the program uses photos, sounds and positive feedback as part of a reward system to encourage kids to decode people’s facial expressions and emotions. 

Cutting-edge researchers in Ireland are also creating games to study cognitive skills in those with autism, using gesture recognition software that registers the players’ movements and transfers them to the screen. 

“From my work, I know that a lot of children [with autism] have production skills we never would expect,” says Maggie McGonigle, leader of the project and an expert on non-verbal communication. “So I’m hoping that language-like skills are locked up in their brain even if they can’t speak.”

Soon there will be a plethora of choices that tap into an autistic child’s passion for video games.  These are great resources that will help take advantage of a child’s strengths, allowing them to develop much needed skills to help better prepare them for day-to-day life and hopefully for many, independent living.

And rest assured, they won’t risk being branded a cheater by Microsoft.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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