Video game addication

Rachel McCumber

Daniel started playing video games when he was 18 months old. I was a new parent and maybe this wasn’t the best decision – actually, I know for sure it wasn’t the best decision. However, what is done is done. He was amazing in some ways. He could use a mouse to make pictures on the MS Paint program on our first family computer – at 12 months old.

Paint wasn’t enough to keep his attention. He soon graduated to Mario 64 on my then-husband’s new Nintendo 64 consul. I was amazed to watch how he could with such small hands, still work all the buttons and joy stick on the controller. By 18 months, he was fascinated by Mario 64. He would play for hours, if I let him. By the time he was 2, he was an addict. Only Blue’s Clues could pull him away from Mario. I started to worry.

By the time he was two and a half, I was worrying about a lot of things. Toilet training him was difficult. Actually, keeping him clothed was difficult. He had no interest in any make believe games that required interaction with anyone else. He didn’t want to play in his room with his baby brother and me. He didn’t want me to read books to him or go to the park. He would have lived on the couch in our living room in nothing but a diaper.

I tried to limit the tv and computer. Daniel would completely melt down – biting, kicking, screaming. I noticed he really wasn’t progressing in his speech at all. He wasn’t interacting with anyone, not even the children that would come over to play. He was distant and detached. He had no interest in anything outside the electronic world of tv and video games. When I eliminated those, every day was hellish from the moment he woke up until he went to sleep. He had no interest in me, other then for food and even food was a challenge because he was such a picky eater.

I began searching for options, answers, “what I had done wrong”. My pediatrician wasn’t very helpful. Maybe I didn’t give him enough information. I was so scared that I was a horrible parent and that everyone was judging me. Our doctor’s opinion was that he was just a boy and boys develop slower. My ex-husband’s opinion was that I should just try to be Daniel’s friend. When I asked for counseling, his answer was, “If you need counseling, then it is broken beyond repair.” I was at my wit’s end.

I started searching on-line. There wasn’t much out there yet but I did find some information on how to work with my son when he melted down. I started using some of the techniques suggested. When Daniel melted down, I would hold him so he couldn’t hurt me or himself. I would calmly and in a quiet voice tell him it was ok and that he could stop and that I loved him. Very slowly, we began making progress.

We have come a long way. However, video games have been a reoccurring problem. Daniel has struggled to balance video games and life. For a long time, he could hardly get himself to stop playing when he needed to use the bathroom, let alone eat. Daniel has lied about his playing, been caught playing under the covers at 2 in the morning. He has forgone sleep to play. The only thing he has never done is lie about being sick so he could stay home from school to play. There have been very long, long stretches where he couldn’t have any video games at all.

My husband (Daniel’s step-father) and I have often described Daniel’s obsession with video games as reminiscent of a crack addiction so I wasn’t surprised and actually encouraged to find a report on a study by Dr John Charlton of the University of Bolton and Ian Danforth of Whitman College here in the USA and presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Dublin on the Thursday 3 April 2008. This study showed that people who are addicted to playing computer games show some of the same personality traits as people with Aspergers syndrome. According to Dr. Charlton:

The thinking in the field is that there is a scale along which people, even those considered to be ‘normal’, can be placed upon. And that people such as engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists are nearer to the non-empathising, systemising, end of the spectrum, with people with Aspergers syndrome even further along again.

Our research supports the idea that people who are heavily involved in game playing may be nearer to autistic spectrum disorders than people who have no interest in gaming.

I would assume that would make a person with Aspergers Syndrome more susceptible to a struggle with computer game addiction.

I have often toyed with the idea of eliminating video games altogether. However, I know that the other kids will want to play and that even after he leaves my house, Daniel will have to face this struggle. I figured it is better to give him the opportunity to face it now, when he has so much family support.

I asked Daniel to come out to the living room and I gave him a self test I found on Daniel was quite distressed as he realized the direction the questions were taking him. In order to prevent a full scale melt down, I told him to just give himself some time to consider what the answer to these questions meant. I reassured him that I was not making any decisions but rather wanted him to work on learning to be self aware and then proactive about what he found out about himself.

Later, after he had calmed down, Daniel said he could see how he bordered on addiction. Based on the fact that he answered “no” to some of the questions I considered most weighty, such as lying about being sick in order to stay home from school and game, I told him that I agreed. I reminded him of how far he had come in the last year. I pointed out how he was consistently choosing personal needs such as food and going to the bathroom over video games. I let him know that I had also noticed him recently taking time to spend with family or attend a basketball game at the local high school instead of playing video games. I explained that I thought this meant he had the ability to keep a check on this aspect of his personality. I also pointed out that he still had to be diligent and aware of the potential problem in the area of video game obsession.

Daniel agreed to work towards finding a balance. Further discussion led to Daniel defining “balance” as spending one hour of free time doing something non-video game related for every hour of video game.

Daniel still plays a lot of video games. He plays more then I would want to play and possibly more then he should play under ideal circumstances. However, a conversation has been started. I am able to say to Daniel, “How much non-school, non-chores, free-time have you spent doing something besides video games?” Instead of a melt down, more and more often, Daniel is willing to stop and do something else.

Recently I have noticed that when there is stress in his life, especially in the form of transitional changes, like me starting a new job, he becomes more likely to hide out in the video game world. He becomes more likely to be aggressive when I try to point out this pattern. However, I am learning to ask questions that help Daniel face these struggles. I will point out the added stress and ask if he thinks this may be contributing to his increased urges. Daniel is learning to be self aware by looking for outside data to verify his own perceptions. He is also learning to find alternatives for stress release. For myself, I have to remind myself that this is a lifelong journey. Instead of forcing the change, I am learning to be a combination of the mirror that reflects a relatively objective point of view for Daniel and a safety catch as a last resort. I have to remind myself to be willing to slow down and let the development be authentic.

Courtesy of Aspergers Mom

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