NOTE: I intended to have this up last Saturday. However, with my new job and a very busy schedule. I over-committed this week. From here out, I will be trying to write at least once a week and twice a week if I find extra time. Subscribe to my blog and you will know right away when a new post shows up!
For Part I of this series click here.
My husband (Daniel’s step-father) and I have often described Daniel’s obsession with video games as reminiscent of a crack addiction so I wasn’t surprised and actually encouraged to find a report on a study by Dr John Charlton of the University of Bolton and Ian Danforth of Whitman College here in the USA and presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Dublin on the Thursday 3 April 2008. This study showed that people who are addicted to playing computer games show some of the same personality traits as people with Aspergers syndrome. According to Dr. Charlton:
The thinking in the field is that there is a scale along which people, even those considered to be ‘normal’, can be placed upon. And that people such as engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists are nearer to the non-empathising, systemising, end of the spectrum, with people with Aspergers syndrome even further along again.
Our research supports the idea that people who are heavily involved in game playing may be nearer to autistic spectrum disorders than people who have no interest in gaming.
I would assume that would make a person with Aspergers Syndrome more susceptible to a struggle with computer game addiction.
I have often toyed with the idea of eliminating video games altogether. However, I know that the other kids will want to play and that even after he leaves my house, Daniel will have to face this struggle. I figured it is better to give him the opportunity to face it now, when he has so much family support.
I asked Daniel to come out to the living room and I gave him a self test I found on myaspergerschild.com. Daniel was quite distressed as he realized the direction the questions were taking him. In order to prevent a full scale melt down, I told him to just give himself some time to consider what the answer to these questions meant. I reassured him that I was not making any decisions but rather wanted him to work on learning to be self aware and then proactive about what he found out about himself.
Later, after he had calmed down, Daniel said he could see how he bordered on addiction. Based on the fact that he answered “no” to some of the questions I considered most weighty, such as lying about being sick in order to stay home from school and game, I told him that I agreed. I reminded him of how far he had come in the last year. I pointed out how he was consistently choosing personal needs such as food and going to the bathroom over video games. I let him know that I had also noticed him recently taking time to spend with family or attend a basketball game at the local high school instead of playing video games. I explained that I thought this meant he had the ability to keep a check on this aspect of his personality. I also pointed out that he still had to be diligent and aware of the potential problem in the area of video game obsession.
Daniel agreed to work towards finding a balance. Further discussion led to Daniel defining “balance” as spending one hour of free time doing something non-video game related for every hour of video game.
Daniel still plays a lot of video games. He plays more then I would want to play and possibly more then he should play under ideal circumstances. However, a conversation has been started. I am able to say to Daniel, “How much non-school, non-chores, free-time have you spent doing something besides video games?” Instead of a melt down, more and more often, Daniel is willing to stop and do something else.
Recently I have noticed that when there is stress in his life, especially in the form of transitional changes, like me starting a new job, he becomes more likely to hide out in the video game world. He becomes more likely to be aggressive when I try to point out this pattern. However, I am learning to ask questions that help Daniel face these struggles. I will point out the added stress and ask if he thinks this may be contributing to his increased urges. Daniel is learning to be self aware by looking for outside data to verify his own perceptions. He is also learning to find alternatives for stress release. For myself, I have to remind myself that this is a lifelong journey. Instead of forcing the change, I am learning to be a combination of the mirror that reflects a relatively objective point of view for Daniel and a safety catch as a last resort. I have to remind myself to be willing to slow down and let the development be authentic.