Children and teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) use screen-based media, such as television and video games, more often than their typically developing peers and are more likely to develop problematic video game habits, according to research conducted by Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology and a clinical child psychologist at the University of Missouri.
"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," said Mazurek. "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."
Using 202 children and adolescents with ASD and 179 typically developing siblings, Mazurek studied screen-based media usage. Comparing the two groups, Mazurek found that the group with ASD spent more time playing video games and less time on social media, compared to typically developing children. Children with ASD also spent more time watching television and playing video games than the control group. Mazurek also concluded that typically developing children spent more time on non-screen activities than on TV or video games.
In another study of 169 boys with ASD, Mazurek found that problematic video game usage was associated with "oppositional behaviors," such as refusing to follow directions or arguing with authority figures. Mazurek emphasizes that more carefully controlled research is needed to examine these issues in the future.
"Because these studies were cross-sectional, it is not clear if there is a causal relationship between video game use and problem behaviors," Mazurek 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."
While Mazurek points out that too much screen time for children with ASD can be bad, using what children find fascinating about video games can help mental health professionals and researchers develop effective therapies using the technology.
"Using screen-based technologies, communication and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away," Mazurek said. "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."
The study, "Television, Video Game and Social Media Use among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings," will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Mazurek's other study, "Video Game Use and Problem Behaviors in Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders" was published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Mazurek has also written for The Scientist Magazine about the positive and negative effects of using screen-based technologies in interventions for children with autism.
Thanks to Jesslyn Chew – the author of the article – for passing it along to us.