Video game therapy

by arianne

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When I first started having children I told myself that I’d never let my kids get into video games. Six years later I find myself singing their praises and actually recommending them to people. How did this happen and what crazy obsessive universe did I tumble into?

My brother in law has always been a gamer, but having recently moved on to bigger and better things (read: Xbox 360) we were fortunate enough to get his hand me down Playstation 2. It was a compromise, since I had vowed to never buy a game console, but I figured the kids would be too young and they’d get bored and move on quickly. OH HOW FUNNY AND CUTE THOSE THOUGHTS ARE NOW.

At first we had the kids playing the snowboarding game SSX, and they were astonishingly good. Not just good for a 5 and 3 year old, good for anyone. They were beating most of us before we could blink, causing half of us to laugh in wonderment and the other half to get mad that they’d been beat down by a pre-schooler. Papa, I’m lookin at you.

The only problem is that while autism gives you mad focus skillz, it also takes away any and all ability to transition. As in, transition from playing to losing. No matter how fun they’d be having, the second the race would end and they hadn’t won, it was goodbye self control, hello tantrums.

Things were only partially bad, however, because the biggest change we noticed once the kids started playing was that my oldest started TALKING to us. Spontaneous words. Real conversations, even. Long monologues about the merits of the alpine board compared to the trick board, and why the best character was totally overrated. Yes, the conversations were mostly about the game, but we didn’t care. He was talking more than he ever had in his life, and this newfound passion and excitement was something we weren’t sure if we’d get to see as parents of autism.

It was official: I was smitten with video games.

Since the racing days we’ve moved onto the “adventure” genre now, and my boys continue to amaze me with their skill and understanding of these complicated games. The latest thing I’ve noticed resulting from the video game therapy is the emergence of pretend play. My boys, like most kids with autism, simply do not have pretend play skills. This fact makes it really hard on us as parents, and themselves in general, because they can’t just sit and play with toys. They look at a toy and have no idea what to do with it unless someone is sitting with them and mimicking it to them. Not because they aren’t smart enough, but because that abstract thought part of the brain is compromised somehow. Instead of playing, they find non-play to do (wrecking furniture or dumping out every toy bin and drawer they can find, for example) and get in constant bickering matches. And by bickering I mean screaming and scratching and hitting and did I mention screaming. I really need to re-name the playroom the “scream and make wicked messes room”, because not much playing goes on in there.

However, just this week we noticed something. My oldest took a transformer, gave it a voice and started making it talk and fly around. His brother noticed, joined in and on Friday they PLAYED together for at least two hours. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “Is this what typical kids do? They just…play??? DUDE.”

You see, they’d been playing their new Transformers PS2 game for over a week. The game is full of cut-scenes that show the good guys and the bad guys talking smack and cheering their respective side on. I couldn’t believe it when I heard my oldest say “We must save the sentient beings, let’s go!” and his brother answer “Ok buddy, autobots roll out!”. I may have possibly screamed and scared the poor children into the other room. Maybe. But their toys were saying “wow, let’s get outta here” as they ran away.

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