There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that kids on the autism spectrum are learning from video games and digital technologies. While kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are undoubtedly drawn to video games, apps, and other technology, there are still skeptics who ask whether video games are good for children affected by the disorder. Researchers are starting to collect data and ask are video games good for children affected by autism and to inform parents and educators about how to use technology to help kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Here are some of the most important findings:
1. Computers are an asset to academic performance. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often perform better on computerized versions of tests than on paper-and-pencil measures. For example, Sally Ozonoff and her colleagues found less repetitive behavior on computerized versions of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test.
2. Technologies improve attention. Kids affected by autism are significantly more attentive and motivated with computer-assisted instruction. Christina Whalen and her colleagues used the computer program Teachtown to improve language, communication skills, and social and emotional development.
3. Visual tools work best for kids with autism. Many studies have shown that visual supports can improve task engagement, social interaction, and play skills. In most of the previous studies, visual supports took the form of static images. However since 2000, Dettmer and colleagues found using electronic versions of these supports to be very helpful.
4. Video games can teach social skills. Goh and colleagues describe strategies where games can improve socialization skills for kids affected by autism. Most notable is the concept that therapeutic use of popular and therapeutic video games can be an excellent tool to practice and improve social comprehension due to increased motivation and generalization of skills.
5. Games and apps have potential to reduce repetitive behavior. A recent article in the Games for Health Journal describes strategies for using popular games to improve flexible behavior and adaptive skills.
While there is the need for more research about the impact of technology on children affected by autism, there is also great promise in this area. There are also legitimate concerns about the tendency of some children with autism to over-use technology, so parents and educators need to proceed cautiously. Ongoing research and the creation of new screen-based technologies to help kids with autism will be important.