autism & asperger’s: the way i see it

Turning Video Game Obsessions into Learning
’m a firm believer that there are certain characteristics the child, “What does Mario do when he is not in the video of autism and Asperger’s that can be used to a person’s game? He fixes pipes.” Or ask the child to connect different advantage, if channeled in the right way by the parents sizes and shapes of pipe to get from location A to B, or use and educators involved with the child. One of these chardifferent plumbing supplies as sorting objects, or to hone acteristics is the obsessive interest children often have in math skills. things. Parents ask me all the time: how do I help my child If a child spends hours drawing the same cartoon over become interested in learning when all he wants to do is and over again, use that obsession as the starting point to play video games or draw broaden the subject matter Japanese anime cartoons? of the drawings. Instead of My response is this: turn endless pictures of Mickey that video game obsession Mouse, you might suggest into learning opportunities! drawing Mickey’s house or Often the most effective Mickey’s car. To channel the method is to use elements huge motivation the fixation of the game or the cartoons provides into a new directhat can be applied to other tion there must be a direct activities. Many popular association between the games are based on a quest existing fixation and the new for a goal. Inspire a child to request. As the child’s mind read by explaining that there becomes more flexible, you exist great works of literature can broaden the associations about quests that have simiinto other areas that address Parents must be larities to those in a video new skills. For instance, after game. King Arthur and his drawing Mickey’s house, sugand ... knights of the Round Table gest drawing Mickey eating were on a quest. Another dinner, then Mickey setting and gradually reduce the time example might be taking a the table or Mickey helping child’s Superman fixation mom prepare dinner. spent on video games while and using it to motivate For some children, video learning in math and scigames border on obsessions ence. For example, how long because of the visual stimuwould it take Superman to lation they hold. If video fly across the U.S. at the games had been available in other activites... speed of sound? when I was growing up, I The Mario video games would have been addicted to center around a characthem if I had been allowed ter who is a plumber. This to play them all day; I loved could be used in a way to watching rapid movement. start an interest in plumb(Mother would never have ing or to practice problempermitted that.) While there solving skills. You could ask are some children who have


patient creative

stimulating interests

12 May - June 2008


Asperger’s Digest

com As Appeared in the May/June 2008 Reprinted with permission of Autism Asperger’s Digest. Remember a basic principle in working with autistic individuals: an obsession or fixation holds huge motivation potential to the child. Distribution via print or electronic means by any other individual or entity prohibited without written permission of publisher. Temple Grandin is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. I would have spent my time playing video games instead of developing my talents in building things. He may not understand why it was ok to play these games as much as he wanted before and now it is no longer so. the skills to become successful video game programmers. Ph.templegrandin. Use that to your advantage to help him grow and expand his understanding of the world beyond that of hand-held games. For more information visit www. with much resistance on the part of the child – especially if s/he has been allowed free reign in his obsessions for months or years. He will work at learning new things. Her previous book. Animals in Translation (2005) was on the New York Times Bestseller list. and gradually reduce the time spent on video games while stimulating interest in other activities by using the game components as the bridge between the two.D. www. I might have ended up unemployable instead of becoming as successful as I am today. It is my opinion that video game playing should be limited to an hour per ■ May . In my case.Temple Grandin. This may be difficult at first.autismdigest. or some other finite amount of time that is reasonable for the individual. true obsessions can prevent a child from engaging in other activities that will benefit his learning and development in the long run. Video games are one such fixation shared by many individuals on the spectrum. She is the author of numerous books on autism and is a worldwide speaker on autism topics. new activities to gain access to his video games. The games would have been a distraction from learning other skills I needed. captured a prestigious Silver Award in the 2006 ForeWord magazine Book of the Year competition. www. Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships. If left unchecked. I am not one of them.June 2008 13 . Parents must be patient and creative in how they approach this situation. Parents need to step in and be firm in curbing obsessions by transforming them into more productive activities in the child’s life.autismdigest. and is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today. coauthored with Sean Barron and Veronica Zysk.

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