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.
(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.