What video games taught my Asperger’s son

Our son (pictured in his prep year photo) was diagnosed at 14 with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. For our son, one of the most obvious issues was social problems. To say he is socially awkward is an understatement. He has three good friends who have been his solid and true friends since grade 6, but he has struggled to form other friendships. He has always struggled academically, he is not sporty,  he wears very thick glasses, he speaks in a monotone and he takes everything said very literally. He is not exactly a guy that the cool group are drawn to.

Through Xbox LIVE, he has found a worldwide community who do not judge him based on his appearance.

Xbox LIVE works through an Xbox console, via the Internet, and links up millions of gamers who play as teams. You wear headphones with a microphone so you can talk with the other players. You can start your own game and invite specific people to play with you (who are also online via Xbox). You can work in pairs to achieve goals within a game. You can put a ‘shout-out’ stating you want to play and wait to be invited by someone else, somewhere else on our planet.  (There are many other options available through Xbox LIVE but this is how J-man uses it.)

Our son has had to learn to accept and adapt his attitude if he wants to be invited into online games. He has learned that the world is full of many different points of view and although you can express your opinion, you must also accept that not all people will agree. At the same time, he has learned that even if you disagree on some points you can still communicate and work as part of a team.

He has learned that sometimes your teammates let you down, and that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will let your teammates down.  He has learned that when that happens, instead of having a meltdown and un-friending everyone, most people just shrug it off and say “never mind, we’ll try again”. He has learned that what a word means in one country does not always mean the same thing in another country – ask an American for a root and they will get you a type of beer or a cheer for a football team. In Australia…well…you know what I’m saying.

Through a random meeting on a game, he has made several regular friends, one of whom has taken the time to drive to our home and visit for the weekend. Another living in the US has sent his US army badges as an exchange and J has sent Aussie army badges back. He has made friends with a young Aussie soldier,  just finished basic training, who is giving him all the tips on getting fit and ready for his entry physical.

I know some mums will have a moment of “OMG…scary people out there” and yes, there are, but we checked out everything very carefully, we ask that his bedroom door is open and we regularly visit and listen to the banter between the players.

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One time I went in to call J-man to unpack the dishwasher, making him leave the game for a few minutes. He was part of a team hunting down a giant zombie (as you do) and all of a sudden there was some drama on screen. His teammates had to leave the area on the game and didn’t want to leave J behind. I picked up the controller and the headset and the 17-year-old on the other end told me to sit J’s character in the car. I got in the car (push X and left toggle) and we went for drive around New York City. The driving was a bit hairy and we may have run over some fire hydrants but the fact they didn’t want to leave a team member behind kinda got to me.

Now, there are drawbacks. Most games an older teenage kid wants to play involve lots of swearing and a fair amount of blood. I confess that we just ask that the sound be on silent for the rest of the family and threaten that if any of the language comes out in his conversations there will be a ban on the game playing. So far, so good.

I realise it is way too much time in front of a screen and he is cyber-running around New York City with a Bazooka trying to end the apocalypse. However, for my Asperger child who struggles to understand social nuances, and who is awkward and scared in mainstream social situations, online multi-player gaming is helping him develop many social skills and developing confidence in himself as an accepted member of a huge community.

Sometimes you have to ignore what most people would say (eg don’t let them spend all day sitting on their butts playing computer games) and look at the benefits.

Lisa Young is not a 'bloggess goddess', or CEO to a self empowerment magazine. She takes crap photos and yells at her kids. She is an Aspie mumma, wife, nurse and friend. She is honest, she likes wine, and she is learning more and more each day that life is crazy, unpredictable and an adventure to be embraced. You can find her blog here, Facebook page here and she tweets at @lybliss.

This post originally appeared on The Kids are All Right and has republished with full permission.

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