Children and teens with autism are more likely than other youngsters to develop problematic video game habits, a University of Missouri researcher has found.
Kids with autism spectrum disorders tend to use screen-based media, such as television and video games, more often than their typically developing peers and may have a harder time pulling themselves away from such electronic devices.
"Many parents and clinicians have noticed that children with ASD are fascinated with technology, and the results of our recent studies certainly support this idea," said Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist at MU. "We found that children with ASD spent much more time playing video games than typically developing children, and they are much more likely to develop problematic or addictive patterns of video game play."
For the study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Mazurek monitored screen-based media use among 202 children and adolescents with ASD and 179 typically developing siblings. Mazurek found that those with ASD spent far more time than the others playing video games and watching TV, and less time participating in social or physical activities with other kids or on social media, such as Facebook.
In a second study of 169 boys with ASD, problematic video game use was also associated with oppositional behaviors — such as refusing to follow directions or engaging in arguments.
"Because these studies were cross-sectional, it is not clear if there is a causal relationship between video game use and problem behaviors," Mazurek said. "Children with ASD may be attracted to video games because they can be rewarding, visually engaging, and do not require face-to-face communication or social interaction.
“Parents need to be aware that, although video games are especially reinforcing for children with ASD, children with ASD may have problems disengaging from these games."
She added that examining what children with ASD enjoy about video games could lead to potential new therapies using the technology.
"Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away," Mazurek said. "However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual reality environments would translate into actual social interactions."
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