What do Autism, Aspergers, ADHD and Video Games have in common?
How is it that children and young people with diagnoses such as ADHD, autism or asperger (a form of autism ) are drawn to the computer and video games? What is it that attracts them ? Is it just escapism or is there a deeper explanation?
A person who does not have any kind of diagnosis like autism or ADHD experience the world in a different way than a person who does. The person without a diagnosis takes everyday as it comes and does not generally have much concern that something will go wrong during the day , such as the bus is too late or that you as a student may have a substitute teacher instead of the regular teacher. For a person with one of the above diagnoses , these changes in everyday life have a major impact because the difference from what the person expected from their day. All variables in the everyday life is of a great concern for these people and it is difficult for them to create tools to cope with changing situations in everyday life.
In the world of games however, these changing situations are not present. In every game there are concrete barriers , rules and clear goals to be achieved. One need not worry about that something unexpected will happen. In such games like Super Mario you know that the goal is to save the princess and you know exactly how and what your character Mario is capable of to make it through to reach the next level. There are no surprising elements such as Mario suddenly showing up 10 minutes late looking at his watch and apologizing for his late arrival. It is these safe limits which games creates that attract children and adolescents with diagnoses. They know that when they play a game there will not be any major surprises, and that everything takes place in a controlled context where they know what they can expect and what is expected of them. It makes them feel safe in the games world unlike the precarious ever-changing reality.
People with a diagnosis may have difficulties with social interaction. People can be difficult to read and it is not always easy to understand what people want, mean or intentions are. It can be especially difficult during school when the social rules in school corridors and classrooms often are shifting and diverse and there for difficult to relate to and understand. But i you play games where you have to be social , such as World of Warcraft the rules are clearer regarding how players should conduct themselves. Everyone in the game has the same goals and topics of conversation are often more focused on the game and what needs to be performed and achieved in it. It’s also easier to get a better social status in the game because you are judged by which level you are and what equipment you wear. One does not need to keep track of what is in or out of style because in the game is clear what clothing and equipment are great to have because every thing in the game has a number and is included in the games statistics . It’s simply a lot clearer and simpler world for people with diagnoses to relate to.
One other aspect that I think is important is that playing the game is always voluntary. You as a person can choose when you want to play or not. For a person with a diagnosis that aspect is very important because the person chooses when they want to participate or not participate , unlike for example school where the attendance is forced and not voluntary. It gives a sense of freedom when the person can choose when he or she wants to adapt to the rules of the game or socialize . For example, if the game feels frustrating or the players in the game are difficult to understand , the ”mute” or ”off” button is always available , which creates the feeling of both control and freedom. And I think that control is something many people long for.
Some examples of how I as a teacher worked with students with diagnoses with games as context. They are in swedish but could be self explanatory, and if demand is high I will translate them too:
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