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Video Gaming As Therapy?

A promising alternative for neurodiverse adults

Video games are a common pastime and special interest of neurodiverse individuals. In fact, autistic adults report playing video games and participating in collaborative gaming platforms to regulate their emotions (e.g., stress relief, distraction) and connect socially with peers who share common interests (ref below 1,2). It is essential to recognise, however, that autistic adults are at an increased risk for developing gaming and/or Internet addiction (ref 3,4) and some individuals report they are drawn to playing video games out of compulsion (ref 2). Therefore, as with any activity, it is important for neurodiverse individuals to remember to moderate their video and online game play time.

Autistic and neurotypical adults also report that they are drawn to video and/or online games for a general sense of achievement and immersion into another world (where deficits or challenges may be less emphasized) (ref 1,2). Along these lines, performance and reward-based attributes (e.g., XP, in-game currency, medals, achievements) play an important role in motivating and engaging players and can provide external motivational supports for individuals who may not have a high intrinsic motivation for engaging with others (ref 1,2). Therefore, participating in co-operative online and/or video gaming platforms has significant potential to be a digital therapy alternative for individuals on the spectrum, although there is currently no scientific evidence to support the clinical efficacy of these activities.

The general principles of video games do, however, serve as the basis for many modern “serious game” solutions (for more detail see What are Serious Games?), including those available for autistic youth (ref 5,6,7). Collectively, serious games show promise for improving mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression) and social skills in neurodiverse children (ref 5,8,9) although further scientific evidence is needed to concretely affirm the clinical effectiveness of such therapeutic solutions across the lifespan. All in all, participation in co-operative video and/or online games shows tremendous promise as a digital therapeutic alternative for neurodiverse adults – especially when conducted in a safe, inclusive, and positive environment (ref 1,2) but remains to be scientifically evaluated.


1 – Finke, E., Hickerson, B., & Kremkow, J. (2018). “To be quite honest, if it wasn’t for video games I wouldn’t have a social life at all”: Motivations of young adults with autism spectrum disorder for playing video games as leisure. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(2), 672-689. http://dx.doi.org/10.1044/2017_AJSLP-17-0073

2 – Mazurek, M.O., Engelhardt, C.R., & Clark, K.E. (2015). Video games from the perspective of adults with autism spectrum disorder. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 122-130. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.062

3 – Coutelle, R., Weiner, L., Paasche, C., Pottelette, J., Bertschy, G., Schröder, C.M., & Lalanne, L. (2021). Autism spectrum disorder and video games: Restricted interests or addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11469-021-00511-4

4 – Normand, C.L., Fisher, M.H., Fecteau, S.M., Tremblay, K., Roy, E., & Poulin, M.H. (2021). Exploring problematic internet use and gaming in young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Poster presentation at the 2021 International Meeting for Autism Research. Virtual Conference.

5 – Grossard, C., Grynspan, O., Serret, S., Jouen, A.L., Bailly, K., & Cohen, D. (2017). Serious games to teach social interactions and emotions to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Computers and Education, 113, 195-211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.05.002

6 – Banskota, A. & Ng, Y.K. (2020). Recommending video games to adults with autism spectrum disorder for social-skill enhancement. UMAP Conference Proceeding in Genoa, Italy. 14-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3340631.3394867

7 – Ng, Y.K. & Pera, M.S. (2018). Recommending social-interactive games for adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). UMAP Conference Proceeding in Vancouver, Canada. 209-213. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3240323.3240405

8 – Jiménez-Muñoz, L., Peñuelas-Calvo, I., Calvo-Rivera, P., Diaz-Oliván, I., Moreno, M., Baca-Garcia, E., & Porras-Segovia, A. (2021). Video games for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-04934-9

9 – Carlier, S., Van der Paelt, S., Ongenae, F., & De Backere F. (2020). Empowering children with ASD and their parents: Design of a serious game for anxiety and stress reduction. Sensors, 20, 996. 1-41. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/s20040966

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