Video games can be the best friend of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, providing these youngsters with opportunities to sustain their attention and engage them for lengthy periods of time. For instance, access to games and apps may reduce conflicts amongst siblings on a family road trip. Video games may also appear to make a child with autism or ADHD relatively happy and content. However at the same time, oppositional behavior and defiance in autism spectrum disorders and ADHD can be exacerbated by the allure of video games, often observed when a child is told to stop their game play, which for many children routinely results in arguments, whining, and repetitive pleas for more play.
By their very nature, children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD have difficulty in transitioning from one activity to another, including getting started on tasks such as homework, chores, or getting ready for school in the morning. They may also struggle to stop an activity such as watching a television show, reading a book, or finishing an art project. In a recent article in “Pediatrics,” Mazurek and Engelhardt described how children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have particular difficulty disengaging from video games. Video game characteristics such as the requirement for physical and cognitive involvement; the variety of stimuli (including video, sounds, words, and actions) and the clear and immediate feedback that they provide can result in intense focus and attention. Children with autism may find it even harder to disengage from games before they have completed a level or beaten the game.
Defiance in autism spectrum disorders is not an uncommon phenomenon. So, developing a clear set of strategies around these transition times is important for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD who become oppositional around the use of video games. It is crucial to help these youngsters learn how to disengage not only from video games but also from other activities.
Strategies that may help you reduce defiance in autism spectrum disorders and ADHD around video-game use include:
1.) Practice and reward appropriate disengagement from fun activities. Use clear and meaningful consequences and rewards when shifting from play to homework or from hanging out to getting ready for bed. This will help your child recognize that you “mean business” when you tell him it is time to stop playing video games. Game-play transitions are very difficult for children affected by autism because players often need to retrace their efforts if they are interrupted. Traditional strategies such as giving a 10-minute warning, using a visible timer, or having another fun activity to which to transition may help. Children affected by autism or ADHD may also benefit from having a specific routine where they regularly go from video-game time to another routine activity.
2.) Own the technology. Purchase a tablet or laptop for yourself and be very clear that permission (given freely for set amounts of time) is necessary to use the hardware. This can be especially helpful with younger children if it is well established. Some children with ADHD and ASD may be very persistent and perseverate in an effort to get their video games from their parents, so a highly-structured routine needs to be set up. Discuss any exceptions such as more time for game play on weekends, vacations, or an extended family road trip in advance, giving fair warning as to extra technology time and connecting it very clearly to vacation or other family events.
3.) Set limits at a young age. The sooner appropriate and effective limits are set, the more you will be able to reduce oppositional tendencies about video-game use with a child with ASD or ADHD. The best limits are not elimination but reasonable-use strategies, so that children are not “starved” from an activity in which their peers are engaged. Teaching your child with ASD or ADHD to use video games and technology responsibly is seen as a difficult but worthwhile task.
Our Series on Autism in the Digital Age:
- What is the Newest Research on Autism and Video Games?
- Video Games and Defiance in Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Understanding Technology and Autism
- Autism and Technology: A Match Made for the 21st Century
- Improving Social Skills in Autism and ADHD
- Family Activities for Autism, ADHD and Digital Media
- What Is the Impact of Video Games on Autism and Attention?