Kids and teenagers suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to use television and video games and less likely to spend time on social media than their normally-developing counterparts, claims new research set for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist at the University of Missouri, recruited 202 children and adolescents with ASD and 179 of their typically developing siblings for the study.
Those with ASD spent more time playing video games and watching TV than spending time on physical or pro-social activities (including spending time on websites like Facebook or Twitter). The opposite was also true: typically-developing children spent more time on non-screen-related activities than they did watching shows or playing on the PS3 or the Xbox 360, according to the soon-to-be-published study.
“Many parents and clinicians have noticed that children with ASD are fascinated with technology, and the results of our recent studies certainly support this idea,” Mazurek said in a statement. “We found that children with ASD spent much more time playing video games than typically developing children, and they are much more likely to develop problematic or addictive patterns of video game play.”
In a separate study of 169 boys with ASD, excessive video game use had been linked to oppositional behaviors, such as refusal to follow directions or getting into arguments with others. Mazurek said that the issues will need to be further examined in future, closely-controlled research.
“Because these studies were cross-sectional, it is not clear if there is a causal relationship between video game use and problem behaviors,” she said. “Children with ASD may be attracted to video games because they can be rewarding, visually engaging and do not require face-to-face communication or social interaction. Parents need to be aware that, although video games are especially reinforcing for children with ASD, children with ASD may have problems disengaging from these games.”
Despite those issues, Mazurek also believes that autistic children’s love for video games and television could be used for beneficial purposes. The professor believes that discovering what makes these screen-related pastimes so attractive to kids with ASD could help researchers and medical experts develop new treatment options.
“Using screen-based technologies, communication and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away,” Mazurek explained. “However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual reality environments would translate into actual social interactions.”