At the Movies: Games for Autism

Pic of the day - Puzzles

Gaming is of special interest with the ASD community. Here, ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorders, a range of conditions with some common elements but for which the names keep changing, thanks to the folks in charge of the DSM who recently removed Asperger Syndrome as a diagnosis. Personally, I happen to disagree with them, but that isn’t necessarily why I’ll continue to use both terms in this post (Autism and Asperger). Of necessity, most of these videos predate the name change, so it’s easier to use the common lingo from when the videos were made.

Gaming is big in ASD for a few different reasons. (1) Many kids and adults on the ASD spectrum show a strong affinity for games and gaming. One hypothesis is because it is easier to understand social expectations within the structure of games, or that the representations of social interaction in videogames are easier to understand than those with real people and all their complexity of body language and expression. (2) Gaming is being used for education, health behavior change, social change, and more. The combination of so many ASD folk connecting with gaming makes it a good match to reaching out to them to build needed skills and behaviors.

“Many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have an affinity for video and computer games. CAR’s FaceStation project is designed to capitalize on this interest and use computerized games as a therapy.”
Center for Autism Research: Computerized Gaming.

Last year, University of Michigan engineering students were in the news for having developed some games for the Kinect for kids on the autism spectrum.

Toppo, Greg. Video games help autistic students in classrooms. USA Today 6/1/2012 3:10 AM,

Since I couldn’t figure out how to get the video from that article to embed on, I went hunting for other videos showing ASD kids using the Kinect. Here’s one of the University of Michigan project.

EECSatUM: Software engineering class hacks autism:

And one from the Lakeside Center for Autism, not developing tools so much as using existing ones.

Lakeside Center for Autism uses Kinect:

And other gesture-based computing.

Severely nonverbal autistic teen uses Wii UDraw:

Now, thinking games and play as a window into social skills, here are a few other examples. MyFriendQuest teaches recognition of emotions in facial expressions.

Asperger’s Games: MyFriendQuest, the Trailer.

So does this Secret Agent game for older kids.

Secret Agent Society Computer Game for Autism + Asperger’s Syndrome

Facial recognition is pretty common for autism games. There is a substantial series of face training games from the Center for Autism Research. This is just one.

Facestation Games:TrexTrample
And other FaceStation games: Face Puzzle Fighter | Face Invaders | The Adventures of Pennsylvania Jones | TrainZoom | EmbedFaces | Dr. Face’s Potion Shop

There is actually evidence behind the idea of using videogames and role play for teaching and learning social skills.

Video Games and Social Skills

And there are other kinds of games, not just computer games or video games.

Autism & Board Games at Autistically Inclined

One of the most phenomenal local resources for kids on spectrum is the Wild Swan Theater social skills theater summer camp. My son participated in it for a couple years, and it changed his life. Currently, he is majoring in theater in college. There aren’t any videos of Wild Swan doing their thing, but here is another video about the benefits of theatrical thinking and improv types of thought for people with autism.

TEDxBloomington — Stephen Volan — “Approaching Autism Theatrically”:

Games are also used to teach life skills, like this street crossing game.

DigitalSpace: Street Crossing Safety Game for Autistic Children, for


Autism Games:

Learn by example from other parents how to play with your young autistic child to help them build needed skills. Includes social skills games, attention, and adventures. Check out their Game Collections

Autism Games (AU):

A group from Australia provides free online games for children with autism. “The games are a free resource that aim to help autistic children to develop independent living skills. Please contribute to our forums and help us to develop more games.”

Whiz Kid Games:

A more child-friendly interface to the games from Autism Games (AU).


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