187: Hard-Wired for Gaming

jay-ell

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Hard-Wired for Gaming

Progressive parents have long known that videogames are a great motivator in their kids' lives. But for Jamie Dunston and her son Pearce, gaming is much more than that: It's a way for her to help him overcome some of the most difficult challenges posed by autism.

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bitzi61

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This is a great article.
I work with children with disabilites sometimes (teaching them to swim, just working with them in the water, etc.) and no matter what, no matter how afraid or resistant to change they are, I know that I can always fall back on talking about video games with them, asking them what their favorite is, when they play, and whatever else!

Video games cross the divide between people: age, race, ethinic background, and even ability cannot stop it.

Thank God for videogames. :D
 

crazykinux

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Great article Jamie.

Not what I was expecting at all about gaming and education, so I was pleasantly surprised with your story. My 2-year old daughter knew how to turn on the TV and XBOX360 before she could walk. I`m always amazed at how kids approach games, and your son`s story allows us to see gaming in a new and amazing way.

Thanks for sharing!
 

Kilo24

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It is an interesting article. I've always found autism to be an intriguing condition.

I would be curious to learn what types of games he gravitates towards. From my limited knowledge of autism, the difficulty of discerning significant stimuli is a major component; some of the more detail-oriented yet less aesthetically focused games like some of the bigger scales of wargames or ASCII games like Dwarf Fortress might be fairly interesting to him when he's older.
 

teknoarcanist

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This was a really fascinating article. The bit about spore and how the understanding of emotion and the 'other' suddenly 'clicked' gave me chills.
 

jay-ell

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Kilo24 said:
It is an interesting article. I've always found autism to be an intriguing condition.

I would be curious to learn what types of games he gravitates towards. From my limited knowledge of autism, the difficulty of discerning significant stimuli is a major component; some of the more detail-oriented yet less aesthetically focused games like some of the bigger scales of wargames or ASCII games like Dwarf Fortress might be fairly interesting to him when he's older.
Different people have different degrees of trouble with different kinds of stimuli. My son isn't particularly sensitive to smells, for instance, but some autistic people are. And sensitivity to something can sometimes cause kids to seek that kind of stimuli -- for instance, many autistic people are sensitive to kinesthetic/vestibular input (movement), so they engage in what we call "sensory-seeking" behavior like rocking, swinging, spinning, etc.

Pearce seeks out visual and auditory stimuli more than other types, so he likes games with good visuals, like _Spore_ and _The Sims_. However, _Wii Music_ has hit the top of his list since I finished this article because he really digs being able to change the sound of his favorite songs. He was really into into _Super Mario Galaxies_ for a while, and if you haven't heard the soundtrack for that, you should -- it's got a full orchestra behind it and the score is fantastic.

Re: aesthetically focused games, Pearce is one of those kids who can pick his favorite toy out of a cluttered toy box without any trouble at all. Similarly, animal psychologist and autistic adult Temple Grandin has said that when she was a child, she never could understand the "hidden picture" puzzles because she immediately saw all the hidden images, but it took longer to figure out what the main picture was supposed to be. As a result, Pearce likes to play _Guitar Hero_, but I get the sense that he doesn't notice the stage, the crowd, or the band (and to be honest, neither do I). He can't play by himself yet, but if I do the fret work he can keep the rhythm pretty well.

Did that answer your question at all? I could write whole books on autism and I don't want to over-explain myself. But I'm more than happy to answer questions or direct interested parties to more information on autism in general or some of the resources I mentioned in my article (like the ALF).

I'm curious if there are any readers on the autism spectrum who would care to comment on how games have impacted their lives, if at all.
 

jay-ell

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teknoarcanist said:
This was a really fascinating article. The bit about spore and how the understanding of emotion and the 'other' suddenly 'clicked' gave me chills.
Thanks for the kind words. It was an awesome sight to behold, quite honestly, to watch my kid suddenly understand that the baby was crying for a *reason.* That's about when he stopped covering his ears and screaming when she started to cry, and started pointing at me an instructing me to "Be Nice Baby." (Clearly, if she's upset, it's my fault. I mean, duh.)

Yeah. Awesome kid.
 

Endangered Puma

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I read the article, and it's great. One of my good friend's little brother is autistic. I've seen how hard it wass for his parents to constantly go over a flipbook of flashcards with emotions and household items. (Which only was magnified with a dad in the navy who is gone about 1 of 3 months.) Sounds like a great medium you found, and a great method of bonding. I watched my older brother time after time playing games when I was younger.

It even through a 6 year age difference it taught me to recognize many things you normally wouldn't. It helped me read faces as he clicked his way through The Legend of Zelda for the Super Nintendo. I could see smaller things from when he found arrows in a chest to when slipped up and got hit by a ring from one of the easiest enemies.

Some recommendations: "The Sims 3" comes out in a few weeks(which basically does what you said for The Sims, but captures it a bit more), "Dance Dance Revolution"(which I've seen from observing at the rec center younger children really enjoy. You can get a mat and game for a PS2 at a local game store for probably 20-40$), "Civilization" games (I really enjoyed this as a kid, and it could really teach how what you do can affect something else, plus it taught me basics on technology changing at a kindergarden age) One very successful thing my friends parents did were small 5-Minute Detective stories. After you read it you can ask questions on who did it and how. Many of these you can find for free online, these really helped James(the autistic son's name) learn to express what they want to say, and the way James thought kept him interested into having them read over and over until he found the answer.

Inspirational article, best of luck/wishes.
 

Charlie-two-zero

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A very good article, which I thought was the best I've seen on this site yet. Of course, being autistic myself, I could be biased.

I got my first video game (BBC Micro) in 1987, so the games were no where near as sophisticated. For me video gaming was the retreat when "the world" became too much. I have Sensory Processing Disorder, so I quite often needed to "get away" and video gaming was it for me. Well, it was mainly books, but I could concentrate on a video game when I was so agitated that I couldn't follow a book.

Following the BBC Micro, I went to an Atari, a NES, and then a PC (the platform of choice for me.) It really wasn't until my PC (A win95) that games started filling a role similar to that described in the article. Soon after I joined a Quake clan (then a CoD clan) and these avenues really opened up my eyes to the joys of social interaction. Still not as much fun as reading a good book and still overwhelming at times, but I can see why people like it.

Probably the most important point I might make is that especially with the online nature of most games these days it is a pressure free social environment where the game is the focus. And Autistics have the potential to be VERY good gamers so they already get a modicum of respect. Something that can quite often vanish in real life encounters because of some other difficulties. The skills learnt from say "Joining a WoW guild" can be extrapolated (with help from mum and dad) into gaining friends in the real world.

Since my days fumbling at making friends with fellow Quakers back in the day I've managed to make friends using other interests, namely cooking and dancing (which I originally used to overcome Tactile Defensiveness but has since blossomed into a love of swing dancing and Jazz music.)

In summary... GREAT article. 5 stars.
 

tthor

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great article

what type of autism does your son have?

i have asperger syndrome, a type of autism, tho its a bit different than most other types (primarily in the fact that aspergers is not associated with mental retardation)

i was surprised by how much i could relate to your son in this, in some ways that i didnt even realize were due to my aspergers.
like how he has such a keen sense of hearing, but cant differentiate between background noise and spoken language. i can hear the high pitch hum of electronics running, but yet, whenever im talking to some1, i often miss some of what they are saying, and embarrassingly have to constantly ask them to repeat themselves.. i hear them talking, but then i seem to have trouble comprehending what they are saying, as if i were talking to one of Charlie Brown's teachers (Wah-wah-waah-wahwah)


Kilo24 said:
It is an interesting article. I've always found autism to be an intriguing condition.

I would be curious to learn what types of games he gravitates towards. From my limited knowledge of autism, the difficulty of discerning significant stimuli is a major component; some of the more detail-oriented yet less aesthetically focused games like some of the bigger scales of wargames or ASCII games like Dwarf Fortress might be fairly interesting to him when he's older.
i think autistic ppl would be more likely to gravitate towards more intellectual games, such as Spore or Portal (my 2 personal favorites), because these games allow you to manipulate things like your environment/weapons/characters, so they require much more strategy and attention to details than some other games
(tho i am speaking from my own personal experience. types of autism can vary greatly across the autism spectrum)
-EDIT: i love large scale wargames, because they require you to think very strategically-
 

Syntax Error

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It really puts videogames in a different light. We've all heard of how games can be used as learning aids (I personally increased my vocabulary through playing a heckuva lot of RPG's) and therapeutic alternatives (I read that some doctors are using Half-Life mods to help patients who have difficulty with path finding). Not to mention that there are surgeons who play Halo in a regular basis to keep their hands and reflexes great, since some of the non-invasive surgeries use a camera and a set of robotic manipulators (much like a videogame).

Great article. It's now one of the best I've seen in The Escapist.
 

Dom Camus

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Good article. I found it particularly interesting since my son Ryan has autism. Growing up in a household of gamers (myself, his mum and his twin sister) he has been playing various games since about Pearce's age, but seems to have different tastes from Pearce. His favourite games are exploration based and he will happily discard his mission in favour of poking around obscure corners of the map.

Does your nephew literally discuss wanting to one day design games? Or is it that he wants to make games right now and this has been interpreted in that way by his family? I ask because my experience has been that autistic children at his age have trouble discussing events in the future unless they're repeated from known events in the past.

The game Ryan seems to have got the most from is Super Bust-a-Move. To begin with he just made towers of coloured balls for aesthetic reasons. Then he slowly began to understand the rules. I reckon in another couple of months he'll be beating his sister at the game... which isn't going to go down well!
 

JediMooCow

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What a fantastic atricle. If people like Australia'a Attorney General Philip Ruddock could read this, they would see video games in a new, and very positive light. It's great to be able to read things like this. There are sadly too few examples of the myriad useful roles that video games can play in the world, with the mass media concentrating on the negative aspects, almost to the exclusion of all else. To read something so heartening is a rare experience. Thank-you.
 

Beffudled Sheep

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Im just curious about what causes autism. A friend of mine has had 3 kids and they're all autistic. Does it have anything to do with genes? If anyone knows then may you please tell me. Great article by the way.
 

Dean Reilly

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Fascinating piece. While I've not worked with any autistic kids (I teach Games Development to 16 to 19 year olds) there's been plenty of students with conditions like Asperger's syndrome and so on through the doors. For them, and even for the students who come here with no diagnosed conditions, games is an absolutely fantastic social leveller - one which I know has allowed otherwise really withdrawn kids to open up to their peers and provide enough of a bridge between them to allow friendships to form. It's great to hear about the positives that gaming can bring, and not just how it's triggering a generation of first person shooter fans to go... well... real world first person shooting.
 

Dom Camus

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Jester Lord said:
Does it have anything to do with genes?
If you rephase that as "Is there a hereditary component?" then the answer is: yes, seemingly a strong one.

The interesting thing is that as well as the known disorders regarded as being on the autistic spectrum there are other conditions which are seemingly related. Mathematical ability, for example. And indeed aptitude for technical detail generally. Evidence suggests the children of mathematicians and scientists more likely to have various autistic spectrum disorders, for example.

As you might expect, this is an area of ongoing research.
 

Beffudled Sheep

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Dom Camus said:
Jester Lord said:
Does it have anything to do with genes?
If you rephase that as "Is there a hereditary component?" then the answer is: yes, seemingly a strong one.

The interesting thing is that as well as the known disorders regarded as being on the autistic spectrum there are other conditions which are seemingly related. Mathematical ability, for example. And indeed aptitude for technical detail generally. Evidence suggests the children of mathematicians and scientists more likely to have various autistic spectrum disorders, for example.

As you might expect, this is an area of ongoing research.
Thank you.
 

rohit9891

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That was a very nice article...
I never new games could do a lot of good stuff like these
We hardly get to hear people talking about how to put video games to good use....
people always try to find the negative aspect in them
Thanks to you and escapist for giving us such great articles.
 

simply_simple

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Really good article. My brother has aspergers syndrome and I always thought that playing games had helped him a lot.
 

Kilo24

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jay-ell said:
Did that answer your question at all? I could write whole books on autism and I don't want to over-explain myself. But I'm more than happy to answer questions or direct interested parties to more information on autism in general or some of the resources I mentioned in my article (like the ALF).
Yes, as much as it can be answered at this time, I guess. Thanks.

It is curious that you've mentioned Temple Grandin; I've read Animals in Translation by her and would recommend it to anyone interested in either animal behaviorism or autism. She discusses similarities between the two in it.
jay-ell said:
I could write whole books on autism...
With the quality of this article, I'd read them.

jay-ell said:
Pearce seeks out visual and auditory stimuli more than other types, so he likes games with good visuals, like _Spore_ and _The Sims_.
Does he enjoy games with more unique or abstract graphical styles, like Okami or Katamari Damacy?