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Video Games & ASD

In my previous blog, I wrote about some of the reasons why people on the autism spectrum might be attracted to anime, or Japanese animation. This time around, I would like to talk about something comparable: why video games are so appealing to us. Video games are not as niche of an interest as anime, and they are massively popular among plenty of demographics. However, every single person I’ve ever met with ASD, myself included, has been a huge fan of video games. Why is this? Many of the reasons are similar to those of anime, such as the presence of a wide, accepting community, but there are some unique reasons as well that make video games stand out. I will attempt to explain this appeal with a combination of research, as well as my own personal experiences and anecdotes.

Video games offer a wide variety of different ways to play, and there’s a genre for just about anyone. There’s single player, local co-op and online multiplayer, depending on what you’re looking for. As discussed in this article, video games can provide a level of escapism from the confusing real world, and into one where you, the player, control everything. You have the ultimate authority over what happens, and there’s an element of certainty and security. But security and comfort can’t last forever, and eventually you’ve got to deal with the harsh reality that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. Video games are highly competitive and can be difficult, and if you play against other players, you’re going to lose. It may be hard to comprehend for people who have never played, but these games are high intensity and can get pretty heated. But if you stick with it, you’ll learn to not be a sore loser and accept defeat, a good lesson to learn for those with autism who always want things to go exactly according to plan.

Those are some of the main reasons that I personally agree with wholeheartedly, but there are other factors as well. One is the development of fine motor skills. It is well known that people on the spectrum often have issues in the development of motor skills (once again, I’m no exception), but video games can certainly help with that. Chief among these skills is hand-eye coordination, which video games teach you. I know that gaming helped me in that regard, as well as practicing typing. I overcame things I couldn’t do naturally through practice, and others can too.

One more important thing I’d like to mention is the element of problem solving. Games present a challenge much like that of a puzzle, where the solution is something you have to figure out on your own. As we’ve discussed before, many individuals with ASD have wonderful amounts of creativity, and can come at problems from unique angles. Video games are a perfect outlet for this, where the solution is always there, but it’s up to the player to figure it out. There is a terrific sense of accomplishment you feel when you overcome a challenge in a game; it instills you with confidence which is often lacking from those with autism, and that confidence can even carry over into real life.

For all their negative press, video games have a lot of draw to them, especially those with autism. And now, we’re discovering that they could even be an effective tool for teaching!

  • G. Sosso
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Autism & Anime Connection

For those who may not be familiar with the term “anime,” I will provide a brief overview for reference. Simply put, anime is at its core, animated material originating from Japan. Think of them as Japanese cartoons, though there are some differences such as story structure and animation style.

But that’s not the purpose of this blog post; instead, I would like to focus on something that, while mostly anecdotal in nature, is something that I’ve always noticed and hits close to home with me. I am referring to the wide appeal anime typically has to people with autism spectrum disorder. It was difficult to find hard data or research on this topic, but with what little I could find, along with my own experiences, I’ve compiled some reasons as to why anime is as popular as it is among those with autism.

First and foremost is the element of escapism. Of course, this could be said of most mediums, not just anime. However, anime has a few advantages that separate it from many of its contemporaries. In anime, many main characters are social recluses; outcasts who have yet to find their own niches in life. Suddenly, they’re thrust into a magical world full of wonder and adventure where everyone accepts them. Almost every anime in existence has a bit of the classic “power of friendship” trope where the once-timid hero saves the day through the unbreakable bonds he’s forged with the rest of the cast. Most reading this can see why such a thing would be so appealing to someone on the autism spectrum. Many of us are awkward in social situations, and dream of having tons of friends who accept us for who we are. The presence of such things in anime is very alluring.

Reading non-verbal cues and noticing subtlety is not a strong suit for those with ASD. It’s one of the few nearly universal traits in fact. Fortunately, anime’s got that covered! Japanese animation does not focus on subtle movements and gestures in the same way Western cartoons do, and in order to compensate, a character’s emotions are put on full display using extremely obvious visual cues. For example, if a character is in love, hearts will appear over them. If they’re nervous, sweat drops will envelop them. If they’re angry, they’ll start heating up and their eyes will get cross, etc. Here is a great example:

Anime storytelling does a good job of always letting the audience know what is going on and how characters are feeling, which is good for those of us who cannot always easily discern such things.

Finally, is a pretty simple reason actually. The anime community is one of the most welcoming, tolerant groups out there. People with autism are often afraid of what the general population will think of them, and the thought of socializing is terrifying. Interest in anime is generally looked down upon by those who aren’t familiar with the medium, and as a result, are very warm towards those few who do share their interests. Those on the spectrum who’d ordinarily be afraid to express themselves, can find acceptance among those who share a common passion.

> G. Sosso

Link between Autism and Genius?

 

Hollywood has an odd history when it comes to portraying autism spectrum disorder in its movies. Autism is a wide spectrum, with many different behavioral traits exhibited, but Hollywood seemingly only ever portrays the “autistic savant.” With movies such as Rain Man, Adam, Mercury Rising, etc. people whose only exposure to autism comes through movies may be inclined to believe that everyone with autism is a genius with an IQ of 120+. This is obviously not the case, but the phenomena known as the autistic savant is certainly a real thing. In fact, there may be a link between ASD and having genius-level intellect or creativity.

Some of history’s greatest composers, scientists and innovators have been suspected of being on the autism spectrum. Although impossible to verify, according to several sources, Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emily Dickinson all showed strong signs of having autism during their lives. These men and women changed the world, in part due to devoting their lives to their pursuits. All were incredibly talented individuals.

One of the hallmarks of geniuses who leave their impact on the world is an utter devotion to what they do. This often requires shutting off other people completely in order to focus all your effort on your passion. As this article says, “Whether it is Edison inventing the electric light bulb, or Beethoven writing a symphony, the capacity to transcend prodigious challenges requires a keen ability to screen out distractions, whether social, or practical.” The same article goes in depth about the new film, Magnus, about the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, who denies being on the autism spectrum, but his claims are treated with skepticism. Carlsen absorbs himself in chess so much he shuns his family in the process.

While not every individual on the autism spectrum is of the savant variety, there is definitely evidence that points to a correlation between ASD and being classified as “genius.” Savant or not, people on the spectrum continue to make impacts on the world today, with several talented people like Temple Grandin being great role models in the community, and shining beacons to the rest of the world that we can do great things.

 

  • G. Sosso

Technology & Autism

It’s no secret that technology has completely changed the face of society, especially in the boom of the past 20 years or so. We have things like smart phones, tablets, notebooks, smart watches, etc. which have made things so much easier for all of us. But how does this affect those on the autism spectrum? In what ways can we utilize this new amazing technology to improve life for people with autism and their families? It can act as either a learning tool or a great source of entertainment depending on the context.

Perhaps the most prevalent use of technology in regards to people on the spectrum is that of “assistive technology.” The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 describes assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities,” in this case autism. One good example I can think of is an app that one of my mom’s good friends uses with her son called “First-Then Visual Schedule.” Oftentimes visual learning is the primary method for those with autism, and this $10 app helps present a visually stimulating schedule that will help people keep better track of their lives. This is just one example, there are many more out there that do a myriad of different things; here’s a convenient list on parenting.com that features 11 apps including the aforementioned First-Then Visual Schedule.

Technology is not confined to the assistive variety, in fact many use it as a way to stave off boredom. It’s no secret that children with autism particularly love video games, as they talk about here, and with the rise of casual gaming brought about by tablets, there’s a never-ending supply of fun to be had. While tech addiction is a real thing and should be avoided, sometimes as a parent you just need some time to yourself. One of the best ways to keep your children occupied is to get your kid a video game system, or even just an iPad with Candy Crush, Crossy Road or Angry Birds, and they can keep themselves busy for hours at a time. Trust me, I speak from 21+ years of experience.

One interesting thing I would like to highlight is this little gem: Project EVO. It’s a therapeutic tablet game made specifically for kids with autism. Here’s what CBS said about Project EVO: “As they [the kids] go through the game they are supposed to skirt around certain objects while choosing others. The idea is to condition the brain to sift through and organize information in real time, requiring a player to stay focused on the task at hand.” It’s a very interesting concept. The game has not yet been released, but I look forward to tracking its progress.

 

  • G. Sosso

Autism & Navigating the Internet Safely

Ah, the internet. It is a vast place, with an almost infinite number of possibilities. Chances are, if it exists, it’s somewhere on the internet, and you can find it if you look hard enough. In fact, nowadays it’s difficult to get by without embracing the online world. However, this also comes with some great risks, and the internet can be a dangerous place if you don’t navigate it responsibly. I’m no expert, but as someone who has been using the internet my entire life, I’d like to think I’ve got a pretty good grip on the dos and dont’s of the web. I will do my best to share some of the most important ones with you, in hopes that you have a safe and enjoyable experience.

The first and most important thing is to never give out personal information, especially on a public forum site such as Facebook or Twitter. Examples include, but are not limited to: your Social Security number, home address, phone number, or bank and credit card account numbers. Many of these may seem fairly obvious, but people make the mistake every day. Additionally, never reveal any personal information which can be used to track you down in real life, so things like your school, sports team, clubs, and your place of employment should be off limits.

Remember, everything you post on the internet is there permanently. So make sure anything you post is something you’re okay with other people hearing. Basically, if you wouldn’t say it to your mother’s face, don’t say it online. You may think venting about how terrible your job and boss are, but keep in mind: that can come back to bite you. If the company you work for sees what you posted, they can and will fire you. This article is a perfect example. Just like in real life, you can never take back something you say online, so choose your words carefully!

Cyber bullying is a major issue in today’s day and age, like it or not. Cyber bullying is any form of harassment that takes place online instead of in person, and while that eliminates the possibility for any physical harm, it can make the emotional damage even worse considering the anonymity provided by the internet. According to this article, “Pupils with special educational needs are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time.” If someone starts getting nasty with you online, don’t give them the time of day. Just like regular bullies, they’re most likely just taking out their own personal problems and insecurities on those who are less likely to be able to defend themselves. It’s not worth your time to give them they attention they crave, and you’ll only be making yourself miserable in doing so.

Finally, and this one is crucial. Unless it is purely for business purposes, never agree to meet with someone you meet online in person. It’s a well-documented fact many people on the autism spectrum are naturally more trusting than the general population. While this is not always a bad thing, placing too much trust in a stranger can be dangerous, and it’s difficult for those with autism to discern that. Statistically speaking, there is a higher probability that the friend you’ve met online is a good person who means you no harm, but there’s also a lot of creeps out there who are looking to take advantage of young naïve individuals, and I don’t think I need to go into the things they’ll do. There have been so many cases of this, linking to one or two examples would be pointless; a quick google search will show you the true depravity of some people. Always keep interactions with strangers purely anonymous while online.

G.Sosso

Autism Moms: Things to Remember

With Mother’s Day 2016 just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mother and how much I appreciate her and everything she does for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if weren’t for her, so thank you so much; I love you! Today I want to talk about some things that “autism moms” may experience or should know about. I’ve compiled this list from various sources, including the internet, my own mom, and the moms of some of my friends from the Learning Academy last year. I included a few entries that apply for high functioning autism, and some for low functioning, so as to not discriminate against either demographic. Some of these things may seem obvious, but honestly speaking, being a parent to kid(s) on the spectrum is a challenging thing, and sometimes being reminded of these things can be a huge help in keeping us grounded. So here’s my list of the most important things you will experience as an autism mom:

  1. You will become very flexible. Kids with autism can often be unpredictable and don’t always have the same thought process as neurotypical children, so you will have to learn to adapt to their behavior. Don’t expect a “one size fits all” parenting style to work very well.
  2. At the end of the day, you will have the patience of a saint. For a while, your child will test your sanity, but you will come out stronger for it in the end. My mom used to be quicker to anger, now she can take anything that comes at her.
  3. No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, you will come to be thankful for progress of any kind, be it vocal, academic or social, so much more than the average parent. You may even feel happier than they do!
  4. Like it or not, you will learn basically all there is to know about autism itself. The moms I talked to formulating this list seemed to know more about autism than some neuroscientists, which I found humorous.
  5. This one is very important: please make sure you take care of yourself occasionally. You won’t be able to take care of your kids if you’re too fatigued to do anything. Treat yourself to a night out every now and then.
  6. You may or may not go crazy at times thinking about your child’s future. Just kidding… you will absolutely go crazy! All parents worry about this, but when you have the unpredictability autism brings like I mentioned before, it can really dominate your mind at times.
  7. Above all else, you will truly learn to appreciate what you have. Kids with autism are just as wonderful as those without it, and if you just have the determination, you can make them become a success through a loving relationship.

Make sure to show your appreciation this Mother’s Day, and to all the wonderful moms out there, thank you for all you do!

gage and mom

My mother and I

  • G. Sosso

Spectrum Employment Strategies

One focus here at CARD is helping adults on the spectrum find employment at a job where they can excel. Because of this, we know the struggles that these individuals will inevitably face on this crucial path. Even the most talented, hardworking of people with ASD can struggle with some social, communication, and behavioral issues that might dissuade potential employers from looking their way. Here in this blog, I want to highlight some of the strategies people on the spectrum can utilize to make themselves more appealing in the job market. If you follow these tips, hopefully it will help you take that next step that you deserve.

 
Knowledge is power, and the most important thing you can do for yourself is to know your rights. As a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. The ADA is, essentially, a “wide-ranging civil rights law that is intended to protect against discrimination based on disability”, while the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies. I highly suggest reading this, from their official website. It explains it all in a very easy to understand manner. Knowing all this is important so you are not taken advantage of. Companies are legally obligated to give you a fair chance just like everyone else, and as long as you realize this, you will be in good legal standing if you feel discriminated against.

 

Of course, just knowing your rights doesn’t guarantee you a job by any means. You still have to deserve the job in the employer’s eyes, so here are some things you can do to show that you will be a productive member of the team. First of all, realize that autism is not some crippling disease, but in fact something that makes you unique, and gives you a distinct skillset! Many people on the spectrum are lauded for their trustworthiness, reliability, creativity and low absenteeism. Stress these things in your job interview (if they apply to you, of course). Unfortunately, many employers have a negative stereotype of workers on the spectrum, so it’s up to you to prove to them that those things aren’t true, and that you would be a valuable asset to the team. Also, and this goes for everyone, not just those on the spectrum, but following up is essential if you want the job. Be persistent. Let them know that this is important to you. It will show them your determination, and will make them believe that you will be just as hard of a worker as someone not on the spectrum.

 
Now, getting employed is only half the battle. Keeping a job can be just as difficult, if not more so. That will be the topic of my next blog; until then, I hope these strategies will help you in your road to employment.Good luck!

Visit our websites for more information about CARD or The Learning Academy

  • G. Sosso

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