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Pokémon Go encourages young people with autism...

By now most people will have heard about the latest sensation sweeping the globe in a whirlwind of speculation: Pokémon Go. The idea behind the game is to actively search for Pokémon in the real world as the app generates them, using your location, on a real world map. Once they appear you can see them through your phone camera and try to catch them, along with several other functions that encourage keeping mobile and walking around to further your in-game level.

Whatever your stance on the augmented reality (AR) game is, there are perhaps greater positives to be derived from the game app than simply having a good time. Many parents of children with autistic spectrum disorders are reporting the positive effect the game is having on their child, but why is this?

Encouraging young people with autism to come out of their shell

For young people with autism there are many associated difficulties, including:

  • Hypersensitivity to noise or other external stimulus, e.g. smell, touch, etc
  • Social anxiety and stress
  • Social interaction and communication
  • Development of functional abilities in meaningful activities

Young people with autism are actively leaving the comfort and safety of their home to go out and look for Pokémon. For young people who struggle with social interaction or hypersensitivity to noise, this is a massive step forward. Having something to focus on, and this could be the case for any other interest or hobby, may be helping to tackle the social barriers that affect people with autism.

One purpose of the game is to encourage people to interact with each other whilst playing, as well as getting people out-and-about, rather than being sat indoors in front of a computer screen. For young people with autism this may ordinarily be a struggle, but the game appears to be offering them an outlet in which they are able to come out of their shell and interact with other players. Given the difficulty in breaking routine and new situations young people with autism experience, it seems Pokémon Go is a great way for them to focus energy on a way of dealing with this.

Allison Hope-West, former Director of Autism, said: “Pokemon Go could be extremely beneficial to some students with autism spectrum disorders because of the active and social nature of it. It supports the unique processing style of some students and offers a framework that may enhance community access. It may also be viewed as a highly motivational leisure activity.”

However, it is important to remember that all young people with autism are different, with some displaying challenging behaviours in different ways. Some may not respond to the game or have little interest in it. It is also worth noting it is too early to tell to what extent augmented reality (AR) games such as Pokémon Go could help young people with autism.

Safety tips

Despite the positives set forth here, there are some aspects of the game to be wary of for not just young people with autism, but all young people. In encouraging social interaction you can never be sure who you will meet, so it is good for a parent to discuss with their child the importance of caution in these situations. It may be best to ensure your child doesn’t go hunting for Pokémon alone. Going along with your child may also help them feel more comfortable and encourage further the breaking down of social barriers.

It is also easy to become engrossed in the game and lose track of where you are going, so they should also be forewarned about paying attention to their surroundings. There are also ways to configure the app to ensure no surprise costs occur and all personal information is kept safe.

The NSPCC offer a thorough safety guideline here which is worth looking over and discussing with your child before playing.

And, lastly, you’ve gotta catch ‘em all!

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