In praise of video games for autism

Jeff Katz

Much of Nate’s free time is spent creating works of art (which I’ve posted before) of shopping centers done in colored pencil. The rest is spent playing videos games, or watching game play on You Tube. I’ve always been a huge supporter of video games, having seen first hand how much they’ve helped Nate grow.

His first game system was an old Super Nintendo that Ryan, a fellow student at The Center for Speech and Language Disorders, gave him. But Nate’s first encounter with video games dates to when Nate was 7 1/2 years old and worked on a “game” called Fast Forward. He spent hours and hours in front of the computer screen, headphones on, as he was peppered with language improving exercises. His comprehension shot up as a result.

When Nate started playing real games in earnest, I was thrilled. Super Monkey Ball came into our lives when Nate was 12 and got a Game Cube. He was enthralled and dedicated to completing the multiple mazes. Here was Nate doing what was normal for every kid his age. What he gained was obvious: he began to exhibit real perseverance, and, for the first time, a strong desire to see something through to its end. Nate’s motor skills improved dramatically, his ability to assess a problem and figure out a solution went from non-existent to all-encompassing. I’d watch him play, watch him concentrate in ways I’d never seen. My only concern was when he’d get frustrated. Nate is not above throwing the controls at the TV, or pounding on the screen. That part of the game playing had me in constant fear.

So here he is today, planted in the pathway between the kitchen and front living room, drawing and watching You Tube videos of completed Monkey Ball levels. He’s committed to improving his ability on the game (another sign of self-awareness and maturity) and is able to compare his skills to those who upload their completed games. Nate finds himself wanting. In a low, sad voice, he can often be heard talking to himself, saying “I wish I was that guy.”

Not me. I’m pretty happy to have Nate be Nate.

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