Article originally posted 10/10/2017 here
I have two sons that are autistic, ages three and four. One of the hardest things about having kids with autism is not being able to communicate with them properly or know how they’re feeling. It’s one of the most affecting struggles raising an autistic kid brings. If I’m being completely honest, I often feel envious watching other parents who are able to communicate with their kids that are the same age as my boys. However, my son Gavin found a passion that allows him to express himself in ways I never expected. You might be wondering why video games are such an important part of my relationship with my son. Let me explain.
I expected video games to be a hobby of my kids, given that games are a big part of my life. While they are just a time-passer for my son Cole, my oldest son Gavin is undeniably a passionate gamer. It’s sort of funny saying that considering how young he is, but he just clicks with games, unlike any other four-year-olds I have seen. He is a whiz kid when it comes to navigating menus, driving cars, and getting from point A to point B. I’ll never forget the first time I watched him walk up to my TV, power it on, switch the input to the PlayStation 3, grab the PS3 controller, and boot up his favorite game; Pixar’s Cars 2. That was the day I truly started to grasp how much his brain soaks in what he observes (as he had seen me do that countless times). While he is delayed with his talking/communication, he’s fully aware of his surroundings and excels at observing and remembering the actions of other people. That was just one of many, many instances — I’m still shocked on a monthly basis at what he’s able to achieve.
Many parents will scoff at the thought of letting such a young child play various types of video games, and honestly, I don’t blame them. However, video games and children are a case by case situation. How one game affects child A., can affect child B. drastically different. For Gavin, video games connect with him more than his teachers, friends, grandparents, me, or my fiancee. Is Gavin only playing games like Sonic The Hedgehog and Rocket League? No, he actively chooses to play learning games as well.
Just a few months ago during summer break, I was sitting on the couch when Gavin came up to me with a toy letter “W” and was saying “EEMM”. I was confused at first so I followed him to his room only to discover he way saying “M” (the W was upside down). I reacted saying “Gavin, you know what this letter is?!” He then goes on to say each and every letter in the alphabet when I asked. I was so shocked I called my fiancee with excitement, then she went on to call her mom and dad, and it was a very exciting day for our family. Here’s the kicker though: this happened during summer break. So my fiancee and I were confused as to how he miraculously learned the entire alphabet out of nowhere if it wasn’t us or his school that taught him. Turned out, it was a Fisher Price iPad game that he was able to give his full undivided attention to and soak in all that knowledge. The same type of games have also taught him how to sing, dance, and mimic words.
He’s also learned full sentences and new words because of games like Sonic & Allstars Racing Transformed, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, along with how to count backward from ten thanks to Street Fighter IV on 3DS. Then there are the problem-solving skills he’s learned from titles like Mega Man: Powered Up and Ninja Senki DX. Lastly, my personal favorite, he learned how to count to five playing the built-in Welcome Park game on PS Vita (who would have expected that?). The list goes on and on with just how much games have helped him overcome obstacles.
Getting to Know Gavin
The main thing I wanted to talk about in this piece was just how much games have helped me better understand Gavin. As I mentioned before, his communication skills are very limited. Lucky for us, video games allow him to express himself. Gavin loves to play racing games like Asphalt 8 on his iPad, and Driveclub on PS4. These games and a few others allow you to choose the color of your car. Gavin never fails to choose the color red for his vehicles. This leads me to believe that Gavin’s favorite color is red, something I would have never known otherwise. He also knows how to switch the music in Asphalt 8 — his favorite type of music to listen to is electronica. Another thing I find interesting is when he plays games like Mario Kart 8 and Double Dash!!, he’ll always choose one of three characters, Yoshi, Koopa Kid, or Birdo. Lastly, Gavin’s most recent love is ARMS on Nintendo Switch, in that game, he’ll always choose the number 3 as a difficulty. He doesn’t know it’s a difficulty setting, he just likes choosing that number for some reason. For some, this might not seem like a big deal. But as a dad who isn’t able to have a ‘normal’ conversation with his kids, it’s life-changing.
I love being able to learn more about what Gavin likes. Whether it’s his favorite cars, characters, colors, numbers, music, it’s all a part of his personality and as a parent, it’s a fantastic insight into what his likes/dislikes are. Video games help me understand how his brain works. To him, he’s just enjoying himself, he doesn’t realize just how much it means to me to be able to learn more about him.
To some, this might seem a bit typical, the gamer dad rambling on and on about how great video games are. But to me and my son, this is real. These tiny glimpses into how Gavin’s brain works is an amazing thing that I’m incredibly thankful for. I can’t stress that enough. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the game developers out there. A special thank you to the devs who help teach and mold my son into the bright shining star he is. I’m not usually one to ask for a pity party, I keep quiet most the time and endure the struggles of being a parent of two boys with autism. However, sometimes, every now and then, I need to be open and honest. Guys, it’s tough.
Thank you for reading,