Autism and Video Games

Autism and Video Games

Recent studies indicate that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may benefit from video games that help children learn to recognize emotions. One study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that children with autism who played video games designed to develop facial recognition showed improvement in their ability to recognize various facial emotions.

Studies have demonstrated that children affected by autism are more attentive and motivated with computer-assisted instruction for learning academic tasks. Additional studies have demonstrated how visual tools such as video games and apps work best as teaching tools for these children. Visual supports  improve task engagement, social interactivity, and play. Appropriate use of games and apps may also have have the potential to reduce repetitive behavior. However, the research on autism and video games also indicates that children with autism have particular difficulty when they play role-playing games such as Pokemon due to features such as high reward schedules (scores, achievements, and in-game items) and social feedback (such as peer attention) that can result in a preoccupation with the game. 

To learn more about this important topic, check out these straightforward and scholarly articles that reflect the current state of the science. You can also link to our complete bibliography on the science of games and learning  or go to the Center for Media and Child Health Research base for more extensive information.

Edwards, J., Jeffrey, S., May, T., Rinehart, N. J., & Barnett, L. M. (2017). Does playing a sports active video game improve object control skills of children with autism spectrum disorder? Journal of Sport and Health Science,6(1), 17-24. 

“This pilot study investigates whether playing sport [action video games] can increase the actual and perceived object control (OC) skills of 11 children with ASD aged 6–10 years in comparison to 19 TD children of a similar age” (Edwards et al., 2017).

Finke, E. H., Hickerson, B. D., & Kremkow, J. M. (2018). “To Be Quite Honest, If It Wasnt for Videogames I Wouldnt Have a Social Life at All”: Motivations of Young Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder for Playing Videogames as Leisure. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(2), 672. 

“The current study investigated the perceptions of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who play videogames as their primary leisure activity regarding the role of videogames in their lives and their motivations for playing video games” (Finke et al., 2018). 

Goh, D., Ang, R., & Tan, H. (2008). Strategies for designing effective psychotherapeutic gaming interventions for children and adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(2008) 2217-2235. 

In the article above, the authors discuss the use of video games and psychotherapy for children with mental health disabilities. In their research, they found that video games improve social skills and emotional responses in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Getchell, N., Miccinello, D., Blom, M., Morris, L., & Szaroleta, M., (2012). Comparing energy expenditure in adolescents with and without autism while playing Nintendo wii games. Games for Health Journal, 1(1), 58-61.

There was research done on adolescents with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder while playing Nintendo Wii games. They compared energy expenditure between both groups and found that it could be an alternate physical activity for individuals with autism. 

McCool, T., Gasdia, D., Sharp, T., Breeman, L., Parikh, N., Taub, B., & Finkler, N., (2013). Eden institute: using health games for asd student and staff development. Games for Health Journal, 2(1), 6-12.

Eden Autism Services encourages video games as a way to reduce problematic behavior, increase appropriate behavior and communication, and acquire social skills. 

University of Alabama at Birmingham. (2007). Computer game helps autistic children recognize emotions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2016 from

Study found that using the computer software program FaceSay improved the ability of autistic children to recognize faces, facial expressions, and emotions. Children with Asperger’s made more significant improvement than children with autism.

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