Computer Use among Adolescents with ASD

On any given day, 98% of adolescents used computers for an average of 5 hours. They spent the majority of their time on websites or playing video games, averaging 2 hours per day. The less frequently used instant messaging or chat rooms, but when they did they spent a long time engaging in these social activities.

When visiting websites, the adolescents tended to seeking out information of some type, entertainment, gaming, or pursuing relationships. When playing video games, they tended to be based on violent activities such as shooting or killing; however, they did play games suitable for their age. Adolescents who had fewer communication impairments were more likely to play adventure games than those with greater communication impairments.

Social networking and receiving e-mails from friends were associated with greater security in friendships. Playing video games alone was associated with less closeness in friendships.

The conclusion of this study found that adolescents with ASD used computers mostly for entertainment as compared to typical adolescents who used them for social purposes. With video games, neurotypicals chose cognitively oriented games while the ASD individuals liked shooting games. This is thought to be because of their superior visual perception skills. I would also propose it is because shooting games are cause and effect and there is a level of predictability (i.e. shoot the target successfully and it goes down every time perhaps accompanied by a certain sound or visual effect that is pleasing. There may also be a numerical payoff in that they see their score changing).

Typical adolescents visit entertainment websites while ASD adolescents have special, intense interests in video games and anime. Both groups associated using computers to communicate with increased friendship qualities while using alone meant decreased friendship qualities.

None of these findings were surprising to me. I believe that some of the fascination with computers lies in the fact that individuals with ASD have control with computers, can review content as many times as they like, the material is predictable, websites often have great graphics and music that is pleasing, and how the content is presented can be controlled. What I mean by that it is if you are watching You Tube video, it can be paused, small segments watched repeatedly, or you can skip certain parts.

People debate on the use of computers with people on the spectrum – are they educational? Do they use them too much? Are they viewing appropriate content? Both of my children love the computer and they have certainly improved their typing skills (handwriting is weak), language, and have derived much pleasure from it. My son has some unusual special interests like movie insignias and the Microsoft sign-in/sign off music and graphics. Julia likes to watch stop-action films of figurines and would like to learn how to do this herself. Perhaps this will transfer into other technical skills and interests later in life.

Computer use can be an isolated, quiet activity as well and that can serve a purpose too. Like anything, moderation and supervision is key. We can’t make sweeping generalizations that computer use is bad or beneficial all of the time. This technology is here to stay – our kids will use it and be required to have basic computer skills for jobs and for enhancement of life skills.

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