Video Games, Autism And Making Friends


Video Games, Autism And Making FriendsDo you have a child or teen with autism? As a mom, have you ever felt guilty for letting him/her play video games a bit too long? Maybe the house was quiet? Or you were busy? Or you just needed some peace? You are a mom in the 2020s…so you have probably questioned your technology regulations more than once (just like everyone else). But have you also assumed that video game play was wasted time or detrimental to your child’s well-being?

While we all know that screen time for children requires limits, let’s take a minute to appreciate the good that comes from video game play for teens with and without autism.

Research has suggested that leisure activities involving challenge, effort and/or concentration require personal investment from adolescents and young adults which may result in developmental benefits. One VERY popular leisure activity is playing video games. 65% of U.S. households own a gaming console, 63% include a family member who plays regularly, and 54% play social video games with other people. 27% of people in the U.S. who play video games are under the age of 18.1

Lots of studies have looked at what motivates people to play video games. Results indicated that adolescents enjoy this pastime because they:

  • Hang out with peers
  • Increase social status through winning
  • Teach others how to play
  • Make friends
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Regulate feelings and relax
  • Challenge themselves and master new skills
  • Express creatively
  • Experiment with different identities

One in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For children with ASD, social skills are a known challenge. Video games can present opportunities for more manageable social interactions than are typically experienced throughout the day. Studies suggest that adolescents and young adults have greater overall companionship with the friends with whom they spend time playing video games. Some individuals, particularly individuals with ASD, can become superior, expert video game players, which could result in higher levels of social interaction and self-esteem. Teens with ASD have similar reasons for engaging in video game play as teens who don’t: stress relief, social support and interaction, making new friends, achievement, creativity, and mental stimulation (among others).1

Individuals with ASD experience many challenges throughout their school day and everyday lives. It is possible that video game play may be more enjoyable and rewarding than other activities, and thereby preferred for increasing social interactions and developing relationships. Scientists recommend that teachers, therapists and parents consider working with video games and other preferred leisure activities to help individuals with autism develop and maintain friendships. Studies also suggest that parents develop rules about video game use and avoid placing video game consoles in a child’s bedroom; both suggestions are linked to reduced oppositional behaviors.2

As moms, we all want our children to feel the calm and joy of having real, long-lasting friends. Our hearts soar when our kids have found someone with whom they can call, text, hang out and share in life’s fun stuff. Video games may serve as a mode for developing and maintaining solid social relationships for kids and teens with autism.

Want to learn more? Dr. Erinn Finke studies the video game play of adolescents with ASD in the Friendship Lab at the University of Tennessee Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology. For more information or to participate in any upcoming studies, click here.

1 Finke, E. et al. (2018) To be quite honest, if it wasn’t for videogames I wouldn’t have a social life at all: Motivations of Young Adults with ASD for playing videogames as leisure.
2 Englehardt, C. et al. (2013) Video game access, parental rules and problem behavior: A study of boys with autism spectrum disorder.
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Hello! My name is Tricia and I am an associate professor in the Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology at University of Tennessee in Knoxville with specialties in stuttering and early childhood language. I am a mom to 3 girls, including 10 year old twins and a 14 year old, and a stepmom to 2 boys in their twenties. In 2013, my husband, Richard, and I relocated to Knoxville from Delaware. He grew up in NY and I in Pennsylvania. We love the small city feel of Knoxville, the proximity to the mountains and the fantastic community that surrounds us in our Farragut home. We spend our evenings and weekends on the sidelines cheering on our kids in various sporting events. My primary hobby is driving children from one place to another. I have a passion for anti-bullying movements, outdoor education and building support group networks around the world. I host a podcast entitled "Stutter Stories" to help share the voices of people who stutter internationally. I am a huge fan of thinking globally and acting locally. I am glad to be a part of Knoxville Moms and feel inspired when parents connect to take action for the well-being of each other and their children.


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