Can Video Games Benefit Children on the Autism Spectrum?

Child playing on a tablet while sitting at a tableChildren on the autism spectrum may benefit from the use of video games, according to an ongoing series of studies by Brittany Travers, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor. Travers suggests video games may help children with autism improve their motor skills. She previously published research suggesting poor motor skills correlate with more severe autism symptoms.

The Link Between Video Games and Motor Skills

Travers brings children with autism into her lab, tests their IQ and scans their brains, then gives them video games to play. At the end of each study, she repeats the testing to explore changes that could be related to the games.

The results have been compiled into a study that will be published later this year, so the brain effects of video games among children with autism are still unclear. However, anecdotal evidence from Travers’s lab points to improved function and well-being among children who play video games.

Some research has found video games can improve spatial and motor skills. Given the connection Travers uncovered between motor skill issues and autism, it is possible that video games change areas of the brain associated with motor skills.

Advice for Parents Who Want to Incorporate Video Games

Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, is a Seattle-based therapist who works with children on the autism spectrum and their families. She says she already encourages parents to incorporate video games into their children’s lives. Swenson believes differences in the ways children with autism process information might account for the benefits video games offer these children.

“Because one way to visualize the learning style of individuals on the autism spectrum is to think of the creation of a constant stream of new templates based on behaviors and events observed in the environment and processed cognitively, this research connecting the use of video games and motor control makes sense to me intuitively,” Swenson said. “Even though the research is not complete at this point, I don’t see how it could hurt to employ video games in this manner in the service of those on the spectrum.”

Travers says all children can benefit from more physical activity, and this activity does not necessarily have to come in the form of video games. She encourages families to embrace a variety of approaches for increasing physical activity, but highlights the need to do this as a family.

References:

  1. Karl, N. (2014, October 20). Action video games can boost your ability to learn motor skills. Retrieved from http://news.temple.edu/news/2012-08-01/spatial-skills-may-be-improved-through-training-new-review-finds
  2. Tyrrell, K. A. (2016, January 19). Video games, balance and autism: A Q&A with autism expert Brittany Travers. Retrieved from https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/health/video-games-balance-and-autism-a-qa-with-autism-expert-brittany-travers/
  3. Video game research shows promise for autism. (2016, January 21). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160121155511.htm

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  • Kip

    Kip

    February 2nd, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    There has to be a fine line.
    I don’t know that this is the end all be all answer that parents are likely searching for but at least for many families it could be a start.

  • Lila

    Lila

    February 3rd, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    we all have things that will work for us and will not. same with these children. it might be a true work in progress but there are some parents and children who could very much benefit looking at some new things and trying out something different to see if this could help.

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