3 min readHow Pokemon Go is Helping People with Autism Improve Social Skills

London, UK – Emerging evidence from around the world suggests that Pokémon GO is helping children and teenagers with autism combat anxiety and engage in social interactions.

Pokémon GO, which has taken the world by storm in the past few weeks, is a new Nintendo game which uses ‘augmented reality’ – a mixture of the real world and the gaming world – to let players catch Pokémon, virtual animals or monsters, in real places through their smart phone GPS and cameras.

Some autistic people have said that it can make starting conversations easier because they enjoy talking to others about Pokémon GO. Some parents of autistic children have also praised the game, saying that their children really enjoy going outside and playing it with others in the playground.

Danielle, mother of an autistic son was among the first to report on Facebook that her son Ralphie is going outside, walking the dog and passing strangers without having a meltdown.

“I finally introduced Ralphie to Pokemon Go tonight. She was right. This thing is AMAZING. After he caught his first one at the bakery, he was shrieking with excitement. He ran outside to catch more. A little boy saw him and recognized what he was doing. They immediately had something in common.”

Among millions of UK users, a number of autistic people are also enjoying going out and about to find different Pokémon and PokéGyms to play against other users of the game.

For Adam Barkworth, a teenager from Stockport, the game seems to have made a similar effect, encouraging him to leave the house and socialize with other players.

Jan Barkworth, Adam’s mum and full-time carer, told the M.E.N: “On Monday night we went to the park and met a young lady also playing Pokémon. She walked around for a bit with us. He said two words to her, he has never done that before.

“It is changing his life at the moment. He is getting out and having exercise. He was being cheeky last night making Pokémon jokes. It is like a different child.”

In the meantime, Craig Smith, Deputy Principal of the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Newcastle, New South Wales, has put together a guide to incorporating Pokemon Go into the learning process in the classroom and outside.

“The launch of Pokemon Go this past week has heralded a gaming experience unlike any I have ever witnessed,” writes Mr. Smith in his blog. “Even though we are less than a week into the game, it seems certain that this game is a phenomenon that is going to be growing and reaching spheres of impact in ways that we perhaps can’t yet foresee.”

In his recent interview to The Independent, Mr. Smith said: “For many of the children I teach it’s hard to engage in social activities – even going down to the shops can be socially overwhelming. But what we’re seeing with the Pokémon craze is the same students are making conversation and engaging in social activities through the game.”

Mr. Smith explains that the visual stimuli provided by video games and smartphone apps are particularly important for children with autism.

“The architecture of the brain of someone with autism is very visually-geared,” Mr. Smith said to The Independent. “Typically around 90 per cent of what a child with autism learns in the classroom is through what they see.”

“When you’ve got a classroom where there’s lots of talking involved, the child with autism won’t pick up on as much of that as maybe other students would. But if it’s visual, that’s where the real learning takes place.”

The National Autistic Society warned last week that that displaying new skills through Pokémon Go may not be transferred to everyday life.

However, a recent comment from a Reddit user who says she has struggled with autism and social anxiety her whole life, suggests the opposite.

“I have never been able to look people in the eye ever, and I always get too afraid to even say thank you to a cashier, as much as I want to,” she writes. “For the past 2 days, I have been outside 14 hours each day, when usually I sit inside and play video games on my computer. During these two days, I didn’t feel afraid when I told people that I had found a Bulbasaur earlier or something like that. I even held (and started) conversations and I have never been able to do that before! I could look people in the eye and not feel afraid.

 “I went to Starbucks and I could quickly respond to the barista and look her in the eye, and say thank you! I know maybe these are simple things that most people can do, but for me these are a struggle, and I’m very proud and happy with myself.

“I am glad this game exists, because I don’t know if I would ever find a way to experience this.”

The NSPCC has put together a guide and some useful tips for keeping safe when playing the game.

Apps, Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Behaviour, Brain, Game, Neuroscience, Pokemon, Smartphones, Technology, Virtual reality

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