My kids love video games—like, REALLY LOVE video games.
They constantly chatter about the games they like, they always want to play with their friends, and iPad time is the only thing that will motivate Jack, my son with autism, to do things he doesn't want to do.
I've spent a lot of time fighting against letting video games take over their lives. I don't let them play video games during the week, I make sure they get enough outside time, and if they have friends over, I very rarely let them turn on electronics.
I think these are good rules, but I also think that video games aren't the great demon that we sometimes think they are. There are a lot of great things that video games have done for my Jack, but I want to tell you about something that happened just this evening.
My husband was working late, so I had to take all three of my kids with me to back-to-school night. Because I'm not insane, I planned ahead by bringing video games for my kids, reserving the iPad for Jack.
I tried to pay attention to the teacher, but I couldn't help but watch Jack sitting at a desk playing Plants vs. Zombies...with a classmate. They talked to each other. Jack encouraged the other child to place plants on the screen. At one point, Jack handed the iPad to the other child so he could play.
If you are familiar with autistic children, or Jack in particular, you know that conversation, interaction, and sharing with people his own age are a huge deal. I wanted to jump up and down to celebrate. It turns out that if Jack and other kids have common ground, my kid is capable of interacting with his peers.
In fact, they were talking so much that they had to be shushed more than once, and eventually I moved them to a back corner of the room. I should repeat that: someone had to shush my kid because he was being too loud with someone else his age. I don't know if that has ever happened before. I couldn't have been happier.
It's funny what makes special needs parents happy, isn't it?
I have come to terms with video games, not just because of their therapeutic uses—and they do have them—or because my kid will do his homework if I promise him 20 minutes on his DSi, but because it gives Jack common ground with other children. It is something he can be as good at—or better than—as his classmates. It is something that Jack can be obsessed about without seeming weird to other third graders.
Would I prefer that he bond with another child over their shared love of homework? Sure. But that's not going to happen. So instead I'll sit back and enjoy his success with Plants vs. Zombies.
Stimey writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.