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mamadonna81 avatar 8:00 PM on 06.28.2010  (server time)
How gaming is helping my Autistic son

I am married to KyleGamee and we have 2 kids. Our oldest is Cadence who is 5, and she is unlike any 5 year-old you ever met. Just ask most of DtoidLA, but this isn't about her. This is about Andy who is going to be 3 in a couple of weeks.

This is Andy, isn't he an adorable boy?

Andy has been diagnosed with Autism Disorder. He is the sweetest little boy who lives in his own world a lot. He doesn't speak much, his communication skills are minimal (although with intensive daily therapies, he is getting better all the time), and he has only recently started to really engage with people. He is very sensory sensitive, meaning its difficult for him to process sounds, sights, and sensations normally. Andy has one escape that we can always resort to when he is overstimulated and getting ready to meltdown (meltdowns include lots of screaming, kicking, and throwing himself around): the iPod. It allows him to turn internally and focus on one thing: whatever game he happens to be playing.

Andy playing on the iPod. Once he gets it, good luck getting him to give it up.

This break for him and break from him for me has been crucial in our being able to live with Autism. While Andy is a milder case in terms of behavior issues, he is still young. The scream that he has developed, which is typical of children living with Autism, is something that could quite easily cause any human to snap. It is a sound of a particular pitch and resonance that goes directly to the brain stem and sends the message to make that noise stop at all costs. So being able to hand him the iPod and have him shut up immediately is such a HUGE relief.

For Andy, having the iPod is part of his Stereotypy or Stim as it is more often referred to. He has many behaviors that fall under the category as stim: he rolls his eyes back in his head, looks at objects from different angles, flicks his ear, walks past people or things while looking at them sidelong, and recently started pressing his face against things. In public this can be anything from embarrassing for us to downright dangerous for him. Handing him the iPod stops all that. It calms him when he is feeling uneasy (which is the primary function of stimming).

Aside from the self-involved iPod use, he also enjoys watching the rest of us play games on the 360, PS3, or Wii. He will cheer us on and engage with us as we attempt to complete a level in 'Splosion Man, Castle Crashers, Wall-E, Flower, Batman: AA, or whatever it is we are playing. It pulls him out of his world of Autism and allows him to connect with us, through excitement and anticipation. The smile on his face alone is worth all the money I spend on this stuff (yeah, we all enjoy it too).

The funny face he is making here is actually part of his Stim

I hold out a lot of hope for Andy's future, catching his Autism while he is so young and "treating" it early is crucial to success as an adult. The one thing I know he will always be able to do though, is game. No matter how minimal his communication skills end up being, no matter how odd or weird he may turn out to be as an adult, I know he can take solace in games. They will always be a source of joy, excitement, and fun. They can challenge him to grow and allow him a chance to relax. It will always be something we can do together, a way to relate, even if I have no idea what it is like to be a boy or man with Autism, I know how fun a game can be.

I truly look forward to watching my son grow as a person, and I know that gaming will always be a part of that growing experience. This, I am extremely grateful for.

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