What online gaming taught my Asperger’s son

By Lisa Young.

A few months ago I responded to a forum post on The Kids Are All Right stating that Xbox LIVE has been the best thing we could have possibly had for our Asperger’s teenage son.  I was asked to explain a bit more about this, so here goes….

Our son was diagnosed at 14 with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. For our son, one of the most obvious issues was social problems. To say he is socially awkward is an understatement. He has three good friends who have been his solid and true friends since grade 6, but he has struggled to form other friendships. He has always struggled academically, he is not sporty,  he wears very thick glasses, he speaks in a monotone and he takes everything said very literally. He is not exactly a guy that the cool group are drawn to.

Through Xbox LIVE, he has found a worldwide community who do not judge him based on his appearance.

Xbox LIVE works through an Xbox console, via the Internet, and links up millions of gamers who play as teams. You wear headphones with a microphone so you can talk with the other players. You can start your own game and invite specific people to play with you (who are also online via Xbox). You can work in pairs to achieve goals within a game. You can put a ‘shout-out’ stating you want to play and wait to be invited by someone else, somewhere else on our planet.  (There are many other options available through Xbox LIVE but this is how J-man uses it.)

Our son has had to learn to accept and adapt his attitude if he wants to be invited into online games. He has learned that the world is full of many different points of view and although you can express your opinion, you must also accept that not all people will agree. At the same time, he has learned that even if you disagree on some points you can still communicate and work as part of a team.

He has learned that sometimes your teammates let you down, and that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will let your teammates down.  He has learned that when that happens, instead of having a meltdown and un-friending everyone, most people just shrug it off and say “never mind, we’ll try again”. He has learned that what a word means in one country does not always mean the same thing in another country – ask an American for a root and they will get you a type of beer or a cheer for a football team. In Australia…well…you know what I’m saying.

Through a random meeting on a game, he has made several regular friends, one of whom has taken the time to drive to our home and visit for the weekend. Another living in the US has sent his US army badges as an exchange and J has sent Aussie army badges back. He has made friends with a young Aussie soldier,  just finished basic training, who is giving him all the tips on getting fit and ready for his entry physical.

I know some mums will have a moment of “OMG…scary people out there” and yes, there are, but we checked out everything very carefully, we ask that his bedroom door is open and we regularly visit and listen to the banter between the players.

One time I went in to call J-man to unpack the dishwasher, making him leave the game for a few minutes. He was part of a team hunting down a giant zombie (as you do) and all of a sudden there was some drama on screen. His teammates had to leave the area on the game and didn’t want to leave J behind. I picked up the controller and the headset and the 17-year-old on the other end told me to sit J’s character in the car. I got in the car (push X and left toggle) and we went for drive around New York City. The driving was a bit hairy and we may have run over some fire hydrants but the fact they didn’t want to leave a team member behind kinda got to me.

Now, there are drawbacks. Most games an older teenage kid wants to play involve lots of swearing and a fair amount of blood. I confess that we just ask that the sound be on silent for the rest of the family and threaten that if any of the language comes out in his conversations there will be a ban on the game playing. So far, so good.

I realise it is way too much time in front of a screen and he is cyber-running around New York City with a Bazooka trying to end the apocalypse. However, for my Asperger child who struggles to understand social nuances, and who is awkward and scared in mainstream social situations, online multi-player gaming is helping him develop many social skills and developing confidence in himself as an accepted member of a huge community.

Sometimes you have to ignore what most people would say (eg don’t let them spend all day sitting on their butts playing computer games) and look at the benefits.

About the Author

Lisa YoungLisa Young

I’m not a bloggess goddess, or CEO to a self empowerment mag, I take crap photos, I yell at my kids. Aspie mumma, wife. nurse and friend. I’m honest. I like wine. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

Read more at simplelovingthoughts.blogspot.com.au


Related reading

Forum post: Video gaming – online, Xbox and the rest – violent games and what it’s like for a teenage girl

Forum post: How do you monitor what your kids are seeing/doing online?



  1. Love it, love it, love it! We have three kids, our son has autism and one of our daughters has aspergers, and we also love the xbox. My wife blogged about it here: http://justaddgeek.com/2012/05/16/are-video-games-the-work-of-the-devil/
    Our kids aren’t really old enough to use Xbox live yet (Gilbert is 8), but they have learnt a lot of other valuable skills, such as turn taking and problem solving – the ability to be confronted by a problem and not go into meltdown is an important skill we are still working on, but I have no doubt that playing the Xbox has helped. Thanks for your post – I will be sharing it everywhere!
    Nathan recently posted..Flashback: Spokey DokesMy Profile

    • Thanks Nathan! We all want and need our kids to learn social skills and there is no reason why X-box can’t be part of the learning process. I am always amazed at how J can struggle to remember basic sequencing in testing, but in his games he can remember exactly where he saw the abandoned blue box half hidden in the snow from five gaming levels ago, and how to get back to it.
      Lisa recently posted..Worse than ManFluMy Profile

  2. I wanted to echo my husband’s comment above. It is great to see positive stories about gaming and how it can help kids on the spectrum learn social skills and expectations. In reality, this is where our kids will find the most comfort in their lives, where they have a little more control over social interactions and can take the time to find a suitable response. Thanks for sharing Lisa.
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths recently posted..FacepalmMy Profile

  3. What a wonderful story. I love hearing the positives of technology. Too often it gets a bad wrap.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Vanessa @ babblingbandit.me recently posted..Awards seasonMy Profile

  4. what a great story it is so nice to hear positive feedback about gaming as my 13 yearold has trusting and bonding issues and his friends on xbox live and his computer online games are true friends they talk just like a real friend as Lisa said they stick together in the games just like if they out playing in yard i have been told i am not a good mother as every Saturday night he is allowed to pull a all niter as most friends are all over the world and this is only way to make a play date ,so thank you Lisa for sharing as we need people to speak out about the good in gaming !

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa. It comes back to that great rule about parenting, “Who cares what anyone says, if it works for you and your children, then keep on doing it…”
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  6. I hear ya sister! ut I will add, that like any other obsession inducing fixation, we limit the time spent online. Learning these skills is all well and good, but our kids also need to learn to apply such irl. I can tell the difference in social interaction immediately if he has been on too much – a serious withdrawal and dip in his (and my NT son also) skills.

  7. Jason Shawn says:

    Thank you for your comments as they helped me a great deal as I wrestle with the same issue. Our 13 year old son has been diagnosed with AS and has social issues at school. His two best friends are always busy with other activities and it is hard to get them to come over for playing on a regular basis.

    Our son is an avid racing fan (as am I) and loves all of the racing related games on XBox. Many of the kids in his school make fun of auto racing taking away any fun he may have related to the sport at school.

    But we have discovered XBox Live and the headset. He is able to find friends almost immediately online just like you say and he can “be himself.” He is a really good teacher of the games to those online and enjoys sharing his knowledge to people all over the world. He plays the game in our media room out in the open so we see what is going on always. I am sure some of the language is a little rough at times in the headset, but our son never curses himself.

    He knows when to turn the game off at night to get to bed and does not argue. He knows when to turn it off when it is time for school and does not argue. He gets 10 hours of sleep each night and he has really good attendance at school and is smart. The only time he gets angry is when we approach the subject of being online too much. So I have to look at the good sides of his behavior and your input was very helpful. I feel like a less than good parent for letting him play so much, but I guess I have to see what the future brings to him this summer and in high school. Thank you.

  8. Great article! My 14-year-old son with HFA just discovered xbox live, and he is a different person on it. We’ve had a really rough year with severe anxiety, from which he is finally emerging. The xbox world is giving him confidence in interacting with people again. I can listen to everything he is saying, and I hear a kind and enthusiastic boy who is eager to help other people in the game — not the same kid whom we have been interacting with in the past half year. Right now he is gently berating another player for lacking respect for women! I can hardly believe it. We live overseas and he doesn’t have a lot of friends here, but this has suddenly opened a whole world of people to hang out with. I’m glad someone else has experienced this, too!



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