This summer Pokemon Go took over American streets. It seemed that everyone and their mother was out and about hunting Pokemon. While some viewed the overly crowded streets as an inconvenience, others found some surprising benefits to the craze.
Pokemon Go presented an opportunity for parents to take an active role in helping their autistic children develop important skills outside of the home. Smartphone in hand, autistic children engaged in social interaction with decreased anxiety and improved communication skills – all thanks to a simple, interactive video game.
Promotes Social Interaction & Communication Skills
Communication with others can be very difficult for children with autism. While they are fully aware of what is going on around them, it can be challenging to communicate this with others. Since Pokemon Go requires players to literally walk around in search of Pokemon, you’ll likely run into fellow players on the streets. Seeing others playing the same game is a natural ice breaker, especially for children who have a hard time forming bonds. The common goal of finding and catching Pokemon helps break down walls and provides a pressure-free way to interact with others. Children can share the types of Pokemon they’ve caught and where, or work together to take down more powerful players.
Many parents saw their autistic children engaging in levels of social interaction they’d never seen before, simply because they loved the game and found it easy to talk to others about it. Some parents have found that Pokemon Go opened their children up to communication, first about the game, and then other things as well.
One mother found that Pokemon Go provided opportunities to teach her son about two-way communication and showing interest in others. Each time they ventured outside to play the game she witnessed her son reach new milestones. First, it began with initiating conversations about the game, then she encouraged him to ask questions to show interest in others. Eventually, she found that her son could carry on conversations that weren’t even about Pokemon Go while maintaining eye contact, something he previously couldn’t do.
Distracts From Anxiety
Since autism affects how children socialize with others, it’s not uncommon for children to prefer being at home in the safety of familiar surroundings. In order to lower the anxiety of unfamiliar social situations, families with autistic children often rely heavily on routines.
Unlike traditional video games, Pokemon Go requires players to venture outside to catch Pokemon, stock up on Poke Balls, or train their Pokemon at a Gym. This provides the perfect opportunity for autistic children to become more flexible with changes to their routine. With their focus heavily on the game in hand, many parents found their children were able to leave the house and break routine without overwhelming levels of anxiety. Some children who previously resisted leaving the house even began asking their parents to take them outside to play the game. This seemingly simple step can be monumental for a family with a special needs child.
There’s no denying that it can be difficult for parents of autistic children to communicate and share experiences with them. Pokemon Go has allowed parents to bond with their children through a fun, interactive game. Not only can families venture out and catch Pokemon together, but they can carry on conversations about the game long after they’ve caught them all.
While unintended or not, Pokemon Go has become a life changer for families everywhere. As the game develops social skills in autistic children, it also brings families together, which is a pretty impressive feat for a video game.
Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at www.kalimuir.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.