Thursday, September 21, 2017

Autism Answer: Video Games And Social Skills - Years Later

My youngest son playing video games.

My youngest son was on the phone with a college admissions woman the other day. She asked him a bit about himself, including why he wanted to be a video game developer.

"Well," he explained without hesitation, "I used to have autism when I was little, and social situations were really hard for me. I mean, really hard. I felt everyone's feelings and couldn't handle it, it hurt to be so confused and caring, so I just tried to avoid it. It was really hard." 

I continued to pretend to be working on my computer as he sighed and sacrificed a moment, offering silence in honor of the memory. The woman on the other line waited for my son to complete his answer.

He began again with enthusiasm. "But then I discovered video games and I practiced being social with characters. I felt the feelings still, but I felt like I had a different kind of control in there, I was more able to try new things because video games gave me a sense of purpose - you know, missions and stuff - but they also gave me room to figure out social skills. My empathy could cause fear and hurt for me in video games too, but I handled it better and found ways to take action better. You know, because it was a game. And then I practiced what I learned in the games with my friends at school. It took a lot of years but now I'm way better with my social skills and social stuff in general. And I still use games when I need to find that balance again. If I could give that kind of acceptance and place to learn confidence to even just one other person struggling to feel comfortable with the world, if I could do that for just one other person, creating video games would be worth it."

I couldn't hear what the woman on the other end of the line was saying in response to his explation because I moved into the other room and closed my eyes and felt feelings. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

RANDOM INSIDER ADDITION: As Declyn's mom I feel qualified to tell you that his story, his explation of learning social skills with the help of video games, is true. But also, it isn't. At least, it isn't the whole truth. I mean, yes, he did use the games in the way described, but he also used them to meet fellow gamers in the non-virtual world. He also had brothers to practice social skills and gaming with. He also had me, encouraging and allowing and guiding and helping him choose specific games. He also had other interests and skills that helped. I know you already understand that there is always much more to any story, but I wanted to take the time to add this addendum anyway because so many of our kids are attracted to video games. We can use them as a tool, but it takes purpose and work. Declyn did the work. With a little help from his environment, a few mistakes along the way, and then reframing, regrouping, and remembering the goal, he did the work of using video games well. I think it's of value to keep that in mind. Regardless of our passions, they can be explored and taken advantage of in healthy ways but they can also trap us in less than healthy, even dangerous, ways. It's of value to keep this in mind when we allow ourselves and our loved ones freedom with our interests and passions. Let's keep an eye on a healthy goal.

BONUS RANDOM ADDITION: My son is seriously interested in that college he was talking to, it's one of his top picks, and we're going to an open house on Saturday.  

I'd love to share more of our journey with you! As a mom, sibling, and daughter of autism I have learned and grown so much. Feel free to bounce around my blog, read posts that interest you, or purchase my book, Spinning In Circles And Learning From Myself: A Collection Of Stories That Slowly Grow Up wherein I have gathered a few of my favorites that I feel example and explore (candidly, so you'll go to some uncomfortable places with me) life lessons, hurt, mistakes, and most importantly, insistant joy, thoughtful answers, and intentional storytelling. Have a peek at the customer reviews on Amazon to learn what others are saying about the stories. So far, it's been spectacularly rewarding and humbling! 

Happy reading!