Using Videogames to Treat Autism

A recent study proposing changes in videogame development use a novel videogame to treat autism symptoms, lower the severity of impaired social interaction skills.



One of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders today continues to be Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), affecting tens of millions of individuals worldwide. ASD is now the umbrella term for what was once sub-categories (including Austim and Asperger’s syndrome) in the autism diagnosis. ASD is characterized by impairments in social interaction, intellectual disability, and difficulties with motor coordination. The spectrum ranges from low- to high-functioning individuals, where high-functioning individuals have a higher cognitive development but continue to struggle with social communication.

No one treatment is universal and only a small handful of those diagnosed with ASD progress to a point where they no longer identify with having this diagnosis. Instead, most ASD individuals will undergo multiple therapeutic treatments, such as pharmaceuticals and behaviour therapy, to help cope with their symptoms. Videogames have been used as a tool to compliment traditional treatments because children with ASD tend to spend almost twice as much time playing video games than typically developing children. The problem with current videogames as a treatment lies in its inability to effectively help with symptom mitigation and to successfully entertain ASD children.

A recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, proposed a new model for game design in which both medical professionals and children with ASD are both be consulted to ensure videogames are effective as a therapeutic treatment, yet engaging for children. Their new videogame, “Pico’s Adventure”, designed specifically for children with ASD, is a full-body involvement game much like those of Xbox Kinect. In this game, children are responsible for helping Pico, an earth-invading alien, get home to his planet by working with adults and other ASD children to complete successive tasks. ASD children playing Pico’s Adventure were very amused and displayed many behaviours involved in social interaction (ie. reciprocal imitation, initiation of social interaction, visual contact, social expressions).

This new game, created by the collaboration of game designers, ASD children, and medical professionals, provides a new outlet in which high-functioning ASD children can develop and practise social behaviours. This will in turn diminish the severity of their symptoms and allow them to better understand and participate in social interactions, helping them cope with their diagnosis.



Malinverni, L., et al., An inclusive design approach for developing video games for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Computers in Human Behavior (2016).







Written by Alexandra Lostun, BSc

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