Pokémon Go is helping kids on the autism spectrum
Pokémon Go has surged to success as is evident by its huge impact on players’ everyday lives in the month since it was released in the United States. The location-based augmented reality game has led to people walking and exploring their surroundings more, and it has also been implicated in a few car crashes and deaths (Flam, 2016). An unexpected side effect of the game has been found by those parents of children on the autism spectrum. Lenore Koppelman’s 6-year-old son Ralph has autism spectrum disorder and hyperlexia, a syndrome associated with verbal language difficulties. Koppelman was doubtful of the game at first, thinking it was another way to glue people to their phones. However, after the suggestion from a friend who also has an autistic son, Koppelman downloaded the game and introduced it to her son. What followed is something she describes as “our own little miracle,” (Flam, 2016). Ralphie soon started to voluntarily interact with other children playing the game. When he asked to go to the playground at night on the advice of a neighbor playing the game, his parents knew “something big was happening,” as this was not a part of his usual routine. The game gave Ralphie and other children at the playground a common interest to focus on, which resulted in kids including him rather than concentrating on his unusual mannerisms. Ralphie is also starting to break out of his shell by talking to other people he sees playing the game. Koppelman described the acceptance as a “beautiful moment.”
Stephanie Barnhill also noticed a change in her 12-year-old son Ian (Cao, 2016). Previously, she had difficulties convincing Ian to leave the comfort of home and go outside. But after introducing the game, Ian was more than willing to go outside and interact with other people. Barnhill says that the game “has enabled him to want to reach out to people and strike up conversations,” (Cao, 2016).
Dr. Peter Faustino, a school psychologist and member of the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee is amazed at the effect he has seen as a result of Pokémon Go. Whereas children on the autism spectrum may lack a purpose to leave their home and go outside. With the advent of the game, Faustino suggests that individuals with ASD now have more inspiration to explore the world around them. Anne Kirby at the University of Utah suggests that “kids on the spectrum may tend to be into video games in general” as they tend to be goal oriented and involve repetitive tasks (Singal, 2016). It also makes conversations easier as the topics tend to be more restricted and straightforward. Eye contact, which often makes people on the autism spectrum uneasy, is also avoided when individuals are conversing but still focus on the game.
Some suggest that parents should be cautious in overestimating the effects of the game. Dr. Fred Volkmar of Yale’s Child Study Center says a problem with the game is that it may interfere with “learning about the world,” (Cao, 2016). The game may become detrimental if it is all that the child will focus on. Dr. James McPartland, the director of Yale’s Developmental Disabilities Clinic in the Child Study Center, suggest that with careful monitoring, any pitfalls may be avoided.
Cao, R. (August 5, 2016). How 'Pokemon Go' helps kids with autism and Asperger's. CNN. Retrieved 5 August 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/05/health/pokemon-go-autism-aspergers/index.html
Flam, L. (July 19, 2016). How Pokemon Go sparked 'miracle' transformation in a boy with autism. TODAY.com. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/parents/how-pokemon-go-sparked-miracle-transformation-boy-autism-t100928
Faustino, P. (2016). Pokémon GO: What parents of individuals with autism need to understand. Autism Speaks. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2016/07/15/pok%C3%A9mon-go-what-parents-individuals-autism-need-understand
Singal, J. (July 20, 2016). How Pokémon Go Might Actually Be Helping Kids With Autism. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/07/why-pokmon-go-might-actually-be-helping-kids-with-autism.html