Is there a Link Between Autism and Video Game Addiction?

Mar 11, 2024

Video games have become a popular hobby across a diverse demographic of people. Among those enthusiasts, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are particularly interested in playing video games and find immense enjoyment in them. However, there is a link between people with autism and harmful gaming addictions.

There are nuances between autism and gaming that still need to be explored.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects social interaction with others, communication, learning and behavior.

Autism is classified as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a variety in the type and severity of symptoms that people experience, per the National Institute of Mental Health.

People with ASD engage in repetitive behaviors and have restricted interests. Additionally, they have symptoms that impact their ability to function in everyday life including school, work and at home.

ASD Signs and Symptoms

Social communication/interaction behaviors may include:

  • Making little or inconsistent eye contact

  • Infrequently sharing interest, emotion, or enjoyment of objects or activities

  • Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond

  • Displaying facial expression that do no match what is said

  • Difficulties adjusting behaviors to social situations

Restrictive/repetitive behaviors may include:

  • Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors, such as repeating words or phrases

  • Having a lasting intense interest in specific topics, such as numbers, details or facts

  • Showing overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects

  • Becoming upset by slight changes in a routine and having difficulty with transition 

  • Being more or less sensitive to than other people to sensory input, such as light, sound, clothing or temperature


These are just some of many behaviors/symptoms a person with ASD could have.

Per National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Research on gaming addiction and autism

A recent literature review on autism and video game use confirmed that autistic children, adolescents and adults are at greater risk of problematic video gaming than typical peers (Craig et al., 2021).

Furthermore, a study by Hirota, McElroy and So (2021) found that 100 autistic adolescents concealed Internet gaming from their parents. This led to negative effects on school grades, decreased “healthy” social engagements and neglecting household chores to spend more time gaming online. 

People with ASD spend twice as much time playing video games than those without it and are more likely to develop a gaming addiction per the Mindful Gamer

Why do autistic individuals spend so much time on Internet gaming?

Autistic individuals spend so much time on PC and console gaming because it relieves stress and anxiety, to escape everyday life or as a way to communicate and socialize per The Mindful Gamer.

An estimated 40% of people with ASD also suffer from an anxiety disorder according to the ADAA. Many people with autism use video games to negate their negative feelings. They crave the dopamine release as a result of gaming.

Social interaction online is a lot easier for those with ASD than a face-to-face interaction. Online communication eliminates the need for eye contact when communicating with others which is a challenge for those with ASD.

Additionally, some people with ASD need constant stimulation which they can get from playing video games. Instead of being frustrated by the inability to communicate and express their feelings, people with ASD turn to video games which makes them more prone to develop an addiction. 

Autism and Video Games

The Benefits of Video Games for Autism

While autistic people are more likely to experience negative consequences of gaming more intensively than others. However, there are also many benefits of video games for people with autism. 

Video games can be useful for practicing social skills

Those with ASD use video games as a more comfortable means of social interaction per Autism Awareness Australia. When playing games that require collaboration among many players to achieve a goal, they are developing teamwork skills to contribute to team success. This gives them a sense of purpose and inclusion.

Video games can increase motivation

People with ASD that play video games may experience a boost in motivation, especially when playing games that offer measurable growth.

The Myth of Video Games and Autism

There is a myth that suggests playing videos causes autism. Research has shown that there is no concrete evidence to support this claim.

The fear of this myth has led to the stigmatization of video games and those who like to play them, even though there are benefits.

Unhealthy behaviors - why are autistic people at risk?

Autistic people are at greater risk of developing negative health outcomes for a couple different reasons:

Co-occurring stress, anxiety or depression

Many times those with ASD have co-occurring health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. According to Autism Awareness Australia, as many as 7 out of 10 people with ASD have at least one co-occurring mental health condition.

Video games are an outlet for them to escape the emotions that they are feeling, hence why many suffer from video game addictions. 

Social and communication challenges

People with ASD often have trouble communicating face-to-face with other people. Resorting to video games is a way for them to interact with people. However, sometimes this is the sole means of social interaction as they exclude themselves from other social environments.

Gaming Addiction help and resources

If you think you or someone you know has a gaming problem, there are specialized resources available to help. In fact, Birches Health has some of the best addiction treatment specialists in the country. For affordable, personal and confidential treatment email hello@bircheshealth.com or call (833) 483-3838 today. 



SOURCES:

Autism Spectrum Disorder - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The Connection Between Autism and Video Game Addiction - The Mindful Gamer

Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Gaming for good: healthy habits for autistic people

Do Video Games Cause Autism?

A systematic review of problematic video-game use in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders - ScienceDirect

Network Analysis of Internet Addiction Symptoms Among a Clinical Sample of Japanese Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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