Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder which manifests in the first three years of live, and is more common in boys. The condition is characterized by the effect of impaired social interaction and communication.
Autistics have a restricted understanding of non-verbal communication, have difficulty with empathy, and exhibit repetitive behaviors as they like predictability. Autistics can suffer from a comorbidity of obsessive compulsive disorders. There are varying degrees of autism (autism spectrum), as no two people with the condition are alike.
Children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are also more likely to develop problematic media habits such as video game addiction, more so than their neurotypical siblings and peers, according to a recent study.
Micah Mazurek, a clinical child psychologist at the University of Missouri who led the research, addressed how children with ASD are particularly interested in technology, and how this interest fuels the effectiveness of some autism video game based therapies meant to teach social and communication skills – a tool that manages to hold their attention.
However researchers caution the excessive use of video games and television, as games in particular can stimulate addiction and undo stress. And stress on someone who is autistic is especially damaging psychologically.
Mazurek led the study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, focusing on the use of screen-based media. This included television, video and computer games, and electronic social media.
The participants were 202 American children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 179 neurotypical (typically developing) peers between the ages of 8 and 18. Parent answered questionnaires related to their child’s screen-based habits and extracurricular activities – specifically asked the time invested, the genre, and frequency regarding gaming and television.
They also completed the “Problem Video Game Playing Test” (PVGT), a clinical measure that is in development to assess behavioral addiction to playing video games.
Children with ASD spent approximately 62 percent more time watching television and playing video games than in all activities combined. They spent significantly more time than their non-ASD peers playing video games and had higher levels of problematic use.
Children with autism spent about 4.5 hours per day, on average, playing video games and watching television, compared to the 3 hours their peers spent on them per day – both groups exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations of no more than two hours per day.
In contrast, those with ASD spent less time using social media like Facebook, socially interactive video games, and physical activities. Results of the PVGT revealed children and teenagers with ASD had higher levels of problematic video games use.
The clinical analysis determined they were more likely to get upset when interrupted amidst game-play, spent more time on games than with loved ones, had an unhealthy preoccupation, and had difficulty stopping and disconnecting from the game – demonstrating strong, negative emotional and volatile reactions surrounding the cessation or interruption.
Autistics are especially attracted to the rewarding aspect of video games, as it does not require direct communication or invested social interaction. This prolonged enticement counterproductively discourages social skills, skills people with ASD are in desperate need of developing.
In his prior research, Mazurek examined the relationship of problematic behaviors among 169 boys with ASD, between the ages of 8 and 18, and video games. Mazurek found a correlation between behavioral problems, such as arguing, defiance and oppositional disorder, and aggression in boys with ASD who played role-playing games. The results addressed the clinical importance of further examining video game use among children with ASD.
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