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  • Andy Smith

What if my autistic child just wants to game all day?

I don’t think I have ever met an autistic child who *wants* to game all day. We talk about this topic in our community, as it is a common belief which young people find really frustrating. So why does it *look* like young people want to game all day?

⭐ Gaming is a coping strategy:

If you are in burnout, have been traumatised by the school environment or are struggling, gaming is a way to escape from your difficulties. You can be so stressed that your own thoughts are overwhelming, so you constantly need something as a distraction, to avoid reaching crisis.

When I was younger, all I did in my spare time was play games. I found it really difficult to be in the real world, so I needed gaming to escape. In this instance, gaming wasn’t the issue, but being in an environment that wasn’t suited to my needs. As time passed I started to understand autism more and started to live life in a way that worked for me, rather than trying to “fit in” and do what was expected of me. As this happened, I didn’t need to escape as much, so gamed for enjoyment, rather than to survive (though I still have days “mental health days” where I game as my recharge strategy).

Many young people say they feel “stuck”. They want to learn, but are struggling so much they feel unable to, it might not always seem obvious that we are struggling, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t. Can you focus on improving their general wellbeing and reducing stress, so they can get back to a place where they feel able to learn? For some young people, this will take time, but that is ok. They will know when they are ready so it is helpful to follow their lead (we have seen this within SG).

“Gaming doesn’t stop me from learning. I use it to clear my mind and it makes it easier to do what I need to the next day”

⭐ Gaming is safe:

The gaming world is a place that you can control. Autism is so misunderstood that just existing in the world can be a huge challenge. Depending on how you game, gaming world can be safe space to venture out from, when the rest of the world feels unpredictable/ stressful. With this safe foundation, you can explore the world and start to find places/ spaces where you feel safe in the real world too.

What happens in games can also have no effects or consequences in real life. Your actions don’t affect your life, so it can be a safe place to learn about the world and problem solving.

Personally, when I am having a bad day or I am feeling stressed, I feel desperate to get back to the gaming world as it is my safe space.

“Gaming is a way to break free of your actual reality and be at peace in another”

⭐ We feel we don’t have any other option

We would rather learn and feel we are doing something meaningful than gaming in a non-productive way. Gaming all day, every day is *boring*.

➡ Some young people have struggled so much in the past that we have lost hope in learning in a meaningful way. What are the people around a young person doing to give them a reason/ motivation to learn again, in a way that works for them? How do young people know it is safe and they won’t face the same difficulties again?

➡ We may not have found something we are interested in learning about. Autistic brains are like on and off switches! If we are interested in something, we may be able to research it and learn about it for countless hours, but may really struggle to learn (and/or retain the information given to us) about something we care little about. Do we have opportunities to experience a range of topics/ subjects to find something we are motivated to learn about?

➡ Autistic people have spiky profiles, meaning we excel in some things, but also find some things difficult that others find easy. A young person may seem defiant, because they are experiencing difficulties that they don’t have support for. Are you aware of all the barriers to learning a young person has and what can help?

⭐ Gaming isn’t always a bad thing, it can be a huge positive experience.

It’s also important to remember that gaming actually has some huge benefits – some of which you may never actually recognise. Young people use gaming to learn, to develop positive connections with others and to recover from previous negative experiences. We highly recommend the video linked in the comments for more insight 😊

“I’ve met some of my best friends online through gaming, they have helped me get through life and we support and lift each other up, I’ve had a much happier frame of mind since i met these people, and we have so much fun together”

“It gives me a chance to just take my feelings out on something without hurting anyone”

“It brings me together with other people that enjoy the same thing as I do.”

(all quotes in this post are from Spectrum Gaming members)

In this video below I explain a bit more about some of the benefits of gaming for autistic children:

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