Have you ever heard the saying Never Say Never?
We resisted purchasing any electronic game devices until Comcast sent us a free Nintendo DS four years ago. Even then, we kept it in our closet for over a year and even tried to sell it a few times to friends. Finally we broke down and gave it to our oldest son for his 9th birthday.
At first I cringed and felt like I was breaking one of my personal favorite rules. But then, I started to grin. My oldest son - and three younger kids - loved the NintenDogs game. It was fun to see how they each interacted with their dogs and how they took care of them. From there, we gradually branched out into other games - our favorites are Lego and Mario themed games.
What I had not anticipated though, was how playing video games helped our oldest son (who has autism) socially. Video games were a link to something he had in common with the other kids in his school classes. Soon, kids started asking our son to bring his DS to school on their special electronics games so they could play together. He was invited to play games at friends' houses. He even started asking for friends to come play at our house. That had never happened before!
Other benefits that came with playing games included:
- asking how-to questions
- actually listening to answers
- reading instructions
- learning to control frustration
- recognizing when to take a break
- following video game time rules
- develop gross and fine motor skills
- enhance eye-hand co-ordination
Something I hated so much growing up became a key component for our autistic son's development.
As I reluctantly jumped into the video game world (and even purchased a Wii), I learned a few important things every parent with video games in the house should know.
- Choose your family standards. Each family is different in what they feel is okay to play in their home. With our son's autism, he doesn't decipher the difference between pretend and reality. So we choose not to have games they shoot guns or have any type of bloody violence. Now, he is a boy, and every boy loves a good fight sequence. We've found that the Lego games are a good compromise. They're fun and high quality. The best part is that when someone gets blasted with a light saber (Star Wars) instead of blood, they fall apart into Lego bricks, then get rebuilt. Some other fun games that involve competition are the Wii sports games. We have fun playing tennis, bowling, and golf. Our favorite is watching our three year old daughter swing her arms all around and "beat up" her eleven year old brother in boxing.
- Research video games before purchasing. There are a few good websites my hubby always check out to see their reviews. His favorite is GameSpy. Their site not only reviews a game, but they also link to other reviews of the game as well. It's kind of a one stop destination to find a good variety of reviews and appropriateness.
- Set time limits. At our house, electronic time starts at 3 pm. During the week, each of the kids has the opportunity to play on the computer or Nintendo for thirty minutes, after they finish their homework. We even set a timer in the kitchen (a nice loud one that everyone hears when it goes off). On the weekends, they each get up to one hour of electronics time. Our other house rule is that once dinner is set on the table, all electronics (tv, computer, and Nintendo) are shut off for the remainder of the night. So if someone was pokey and didn't do his homework during the 3-6 pm time frame, then he lost the opportunity to play for the day. Remember, video games are not a necessity of life. They are a priviledge to be earned.