Autistic Gamers Will Not Become Hermits

Video game players are sometimes thought of as antisocial loners who sit alone in a dark room, a controller in one hand while the other is submerged in a bag of Cheetos. Although generally played alone, video games are far from an antisocial endeavor. Recent strides in gaming technology have resulted in games geared specifically for treating symptoms of autism, which include stunted social skills and a lack of empathy. Skeptics believe the Cheeto-eating-dark-room stereotype, likely due to the counterintuitive and implausible nature of the treatment: encouraging people who are already prone to avoid social contact to get involved in a virtual reality in an attempt to make real-world interactions better. One app in particular has set the stage for this new era of gaming, incorporating four science based areas of learning.

Social Clues does not attempt to disguise its purpose with a discrete title. Designed by 35 students at the University of Southern California, this app was developed to provide autistic individuals a platform to hone the art of social norms. One in sixty-eight children have an autism spectrum disorder, and an estimated 70 percent of households with children own a tablet. The majority of Americans have the ability to easily download this app, circumventing the high medical cost for prescription drugs while also being free of the physical side-effects.

While many interventions exist to combat autism, few have been revealed effective through scientific research. Social Clues and similar games were developed around evidence-based practices, meaning they incorporate several core principles: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), errorless learning, social narrative, and discrete trial training. These four areas represent the pillars of effective autism treatment in the scientific community, and game developers use them to create their therapeutic games from the ground up.

ABA is a form of teaching that attempts to modify behavior using the cause-and-effect of certain actions. Social Clues implements ABA via colorful characters that children can identify with. Players can choose the suitably named paticiPETE or communiKATE characters to play as. Then, they unknowingly experience Applied Behavioral Analysis in several ways. First, prompts and triggers come up and the child selects the one they think best fits the situation, allowing them to plan out and carefully consider how they would react in given social situations. The in-game analytics track their choices and notice trends, tailoring the gaming experience to each child’s needs. The characters will react to the choices of the players, either celebrating the decision or pointing the child in the right direction. This system allows for a personalized , engaging, and stress-free environment for autistic children to become familiar with how to act in scenarios they will undoubtedly face in the real-world.

Negative reinforcement may work when training a dog to stop using the rug as a bathroom, but it is rarely effective for helping children. This is where errorless learning comes in during the game. No “You’ve Failed” or “Game Over” messages pop up in Social Clues. Rather, wrong choices are not possible in the game. Each choice comes with different results, and players are always guided to the most suitable choice. Additionally, negative feedback is absent. Characters do not admonish the player. Errorless learning allows the game to be free of negative stimuli, greatly reducing the stress that can accompany social situations.

Social narratives allow for the gaming experience to be realistic and make sense in the mind of a young child. Common experiences for children are presented in the game, such as interacting with other students in class, searching for a lost toy, or taking the bus. Whereas Pac-man style games might increase hand-eye coordination, narrative games allow for emotional attachment to the story and the characters, employing the child’s empathizing abilities.

Lastly, Discrete Trial Training (DTT) uses repeated small steps in an instructional manner. Each level of the game is one trial, aimed at a certain area or skill. Positive praise and rewards are offered in-game during each trial, and following the conclusion, data summarizes the child’s progress for that section and shows where improvement is needed for further trials. Instead of overloading the player with a large number of tasks, DTT allows for digestible chunks to be completed. Parents or instructors can then view the results of the trial and work with the child in those stated areas.

Using the four areas of evidence-based practices, game developers are successfully creating video games that can alleviate the symptoms of autism. The oft-mentioned anti-social aspect that many assume comes inherently with this technology is combated with the inclusion of these four principles. With the click of a download button, an entire simulated world is available for children to access and begin undergoing treatment. This treatment does not involve brain surgeries or medicine. It simply requires an iPad and a willingness for parents and their children to try something new, a method of gaming that may one day be available in pharmacies.

Works Cited

(NEW SOURCE) Wong, Connie, Samuel L. Odom, Kara A. Hume, Ann W. Cox, Angel Fettig, Suzanne Kucharczyk, Matthew E. Brock, Joshua B. Plavnick, Veronica P. Fleury, and Tia R. Schultz. “Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Comprehensive Review.J Autism Dev Disord Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 45.7 (2015): 1951-966. 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

(NEW SOURCE) Ballon, Marc. “Video Game Promotes Social Engagement for Children with Autism.Video Game Promotes Social Engagement for Children with Autism. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

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4 Responses to Rebuttal-abcdefg577

  1. abcdefg577 says:

    feedback was requested.

    Feedback provided.
    (P.S.: received confirmation of my recommendation via email today. Good luck!)


  2. davidbdale says:

    I haven’t checked to see if you’ve already posted your Rebuttal Rewrite, abc. If you have, please use these notes, if helpful, to improve that post, not this one. The differences between the Rebuttal and its Rewrite might help you in making your Self-Reflective argument.

    P1. The Rebuttal Argument is tough because you must respectfully present the best counterargument to your own AND successfully refute it. Sometimes it’s hard to remember which “side” you’re on. Before I read the other paragraphs, let me react to the first.
    S1. The first sentence is entertaining.
    S2. The second makes a fundamental promise I need fulfilled soon.
    S3. OK, that will be interesting. Bring it.
    S4. Yes, exactly. That’s why I’m still skeptical. So far, you’re teasing me.
    S5. Science-based areas of learning? Where’s the social interaction? You pulled me through for four sentences promising to upend my prejudice against the Cheeto-eater, and now you promise me learning? That’s not what I objected to. I objected to the isolation, the anti-social behavior. See the problem?

    What can you offer early that will pull me through to P2? Currently I’m iffy about proceeding.

    P2. Clever use of statistics here, abc, but you haven’t established the value of Social Clues first, before making me happy that households can get it. In particular, if you hooked me to prove that gamers aren’t isolated, you still haven’t started to refute my prejudice. The syntax of your last sentence claims that “The majority of Americans” are free of physical side-effects. Not what you meant.

    P3. This might all be helpful once you’ve demonstrated the OUTCOMES of the game, abc. Until you do, no reader will wade through the jargon. Suppose I want to capture a room full of guests eager to ski the slopes just outside. To get them to sit through my two-hour presentation on the amenities of my resort, I FIRST offer free lift passes to everyone who will stay. They can SEE the SLOPES! But they’ll stay for the savings.

    So far, we haven’t seen the slopes, so we’re not willing to sit through the presentation.

    P4. Helpful here would be some evidence that players actually gravitate to this game and achieve its helpful benefits. We readers are trying to visualize the play. Are autistic individuals playing at home on their own? Or does this sort of thing work exclusively in a controlled test environment where participants have some other motivation to engage? How does Social Clues compete with sexier games the individuals already play? Are they prompted? Compelled? Paid?

    P5. The point about Errorless Teaching would be more effective if paired with research indicating that the obstacle to social interaction is a fear of negative outcomes. Is it? If not, does the game solve a problem that needs to be solved?

    P6. You’re asking readers to believe that children will be gainfully engaged with a game about getting on a bus. You might have to do a bit more than suggest that it is true. What have you got?

    P7. Is the game used in an education setting, abc? Assigned as homework? I ask because if choosing it is elective, reason suggests more exciting games will win the competition. On the other hand, compared to doing fill-in-the-blank exercises in a textbook, anything on a tablet will probably win. What’s the level of competition here?

    P8. Hmmm . . . . I hope you know by now I’m your strong advocate, abc. That means I have to put myself in the position of a strenuous critic who resists your argument. I can’t grant you your conclusion that the “anti-social aspect” of games is avoided here. A “simulated world” seems particularly well designed to lure children away from the “actual world.” I completely understand the argument, but the PATH from simulating real-world interactions to HAVING real-world interactions isn’t clear yet.

    You’re a terrific writer here, abc. You present the sales pitch for these games well. EXCEPT that you haven’t helped us visualize an autistic child engaging with the game, learning to trust in social judgements that result in positive reinforcement, gradually gaining the confidence to test those same interactions in the flesh world. Your paragraphs haven’t a child in them nearly as vivid as P1’s kid with one hand on the controller, the other in a Cheetos bag. Until we see the “other kid,” we can’t exorcise the first.

    Is this in any way helpful, abc?
    Reply, please.


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