Feature How Gaming Helped One Autistic Child

My son, the gamer.

Justin Knight

Published

By Justin Knight @OptimusJut

Asperger's Syndrome is something that is more common than people think. A statistic I have seen suggests that in the US and Canada alone it can occur from one to two hundred and fifty children, all the way up to one in ten thousand. It is also something that is much more likely to develop in boys than in girls, usually between the ages of two and six. My eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger's back in November 2013, five days after his ninth birthday. I look back on the earlier years of his life and I sometimes kick myself for not having him tested as the signs were clearly there, but I had no idea about any of it and to be brutally frank. I sometimes consider it a failure on my part as a father.

I remember the signs quite well. He rarely made eye contact with people and had difficulty making friends. His conversations with me were often short and filled with even shorter replies and sentences. Such things as sarcasm went straight over his head, something one of his younger sisters (a master at it) soon found out. His hobbies and general interests were extremely limited. If something took his interest it had to be for a specific reason and he rarely let go of something as a result. He came home one day with a book on the Titanic and proceeded to tell me as many facts as he could. He is also an avid Star Wars fan and has a poster in his room with signatures from some of the actors on it. His love for Lego makes me smile to no end, and when I hear the sound of him raking through his Lego box to find a certain piece, it brings back memories of my childhood. I just wish he would not leave his pieces lying around the house, as stepping on a piece in the middle of the night when I come down to go to the bathroom is pretty much the same as stepping on bloody spikes.

Mr. Knight

When I ask my son about his condition and how he feels about it, he does not know how to answer at first. I watch his eyes move a little as he thinks for an answer.

How did you feel when you were first diagnosed with your condition? What was going through your mind?

I thought it was a disease or something. I was thinking 'am I going to be alright, or will I need to be checked on at the hospital every now and then.' I wasn't sure if it was going to be that, or if it was something I was born with and would be affective."

It was a longer answer than I had expected.

Socially, he has had trouble making and keeping friends. A lot of kids have been very mean to him, especially since his diagnosis was made public. He informed me one day that he felt like he was losing friends. His displays of affection were few and far between, though I gladly took hugs from him when he randomly gave them to me. The strongest one he ever gave was when I came out of hospital after suffering from pneumonia and I could tell he meant it, but he has found giving affection towards others more difficult. One occasion (which ended on a humorous note) was when he gave a Valentine's Day card to a girl in his class. She liked it but her friend chose to mock him for it. He got so angry that he took the card back and threw it in the garbage bin. I only found out about it when the mother of the girl he liked told me about it while at the local shop, and I followed up by asking him about it when I got home. At first he didn't want to talk about it but then opened up. How the conversation finished still makes me grin to this day.

"Dad, I just don't understand girls," he sighed. I replied, "Dude! I'm in my thirties, and I still don't!"

Minecraft
The perfect video game for a Lego lover.

It seemed clear to me that he was feeling the effects of loneliness and I noticed him perk up when he tried a Nintendo Wii in our local town centre, and we ended up buying one for him. He had always watched me play games on my Xbox 360 so it seemed like a good idea. For a while he did enjoy it, but I noticed him start to lose interest, and I asked why. He informed me that a lot of the games he wanted to play were not available on the Wii. I then asked him which ones he was speaking of. I should have guessed he would say Minecraft. When I bought my Xbox One, I passed my Xbox 360 down to him. He then downloaded a copy of the game and I was not prepared for the effects. He didn't come out of his room much so I would make the habit of going down and checking on him (his room is a converted cellar). He was much happier than before, bombarding me with tales of what he had built in Minecraft and showing me these wonderful buildings in fine detail. It was a nice change.

He never liked any of his siblings in his room. My wife and I had informed them to knock first and ask if they could come down. Sometimes he would say "No" but these days he says "Yes" a lot more. I asked him "Why?" one day and he informed me it was so he could have some company. I wasn't sure if it really was for company or just some background noise, but I liked it. One thing my wife and I have always done was to teach our children to look out for each other. Maybe this was his way of putting that into practice.

He rarely asks for much from us. For instance, he had built up a small collection of games before he asked if he could get an Xbox One. I agreed and traded in his console and games for one, and he has certainly gotten a kick out of it. Titanfall and Halo: The Master Chief Collection are two of his favourites so far, but he has asked me for Star Wars Battlefront and Halo 5: Guardians when they are released. His behaviour has become different lately too. He now comes upstairs from his room more and loves to talk with me about games, especially what attachments we use in our Titanfall loadouts, as well as which forthcoming games he is looking forward to. He also appears to be much more affectionate towards his siblings too. I witnessed him hug his four year-old brother after he found a car he had been looking for, and he plays multiplayer with his sister on Minecraft. He allows his other sister to join in too. I suppose gaming is an escape for him. I listen to him talk to his online friends and he is so much more lively. It's such a nice change, and it gives me hope.

He starts a new school year this coming September. I know some of his online friends are there already and it lifts my spirits somewhat. His younger sister told my wife and I that she wishes to go to the same school as he. When I asked why, she told us that she wanted to look after him. I thought it was sweet of her to say but it was also not fair to her to do so. He was picked on by a small group of boys at school only a few months ago. While the school has been in the process of reprimanding those involved, she saw two of them in the playground and marched right up to them, strongly warning them to back off. I cannot tell you what this felt like as a parent. When my son found about it, he thanked her for what she had done for him.

Halo 5: Guardians Star Wars Battlefront

The other day, I asked him about all of this to see what he would say. As I expected, his answers were short and to the point, but I didn't mind.

Do you think gaming has helped you?

Yes."

How?

It's opened up a whole new world to me."

Of?

Fun."

Does gaming help you with your condition?

There was only a short pause.

It's basically taught me to focus. I don't know how else to answer it."

Does it make you feel happy?

'Content' is the only word I can come up with."

How does gaming help you cope with the outside world?

The same. It has helped me to focus."

Moving things along as gently as I could, I asked him...

What do you enjoy most about games, and why?

It's an enjoyable thing. It helps me set goals to achieve. I enjoy the tense feeling it sometimes gives."

What about the achievement system on the Xbox?

They are also goals to aim for, but they are not my thing most of the time. I mainly play the game just to have fun. I would go for some achievements, but not all. I'm up for a challenge but ones that are too hard."

So has gaming helped my son? I certainly think so.