What do you do if someone with Asperger’s is addicted to video games?
First, we have to understand the cause of video game addictions. Some people would say that the screens and games are designed to pull them in and keep them addicted. Some would say that they just don’t want to be a part of the outside world. Some people have no idea.
The current widely accepted model of addiction comes from the idea that the thing that the person is addicted to (whether that be video games, cocaine, alcohol, phones, etc) is the thing that is causing the addiction.
In other words, drugs cause people to be addicted to drugs, video games cause people to be addicted to video games, etc.
And so under that assumption, treatment centers, types of therapy and all manner of programs have been created to train people not to need the “substance”.
Here’s an alternate view of “Video Game Addictions”:
Because people who are addicted to video games usually have a hard time connecting in the world, they turn to video games in an attempt to A) Numb the pain, and B) Connect with something that is dependable.
If we look at it this way it isn’t an addiction at all!
It’s a coping mechanism for being in Defense Mode, being shut down, and being unable to connect with the world.
So instead of getting help for “your son’s video game addiction problem”, here’s a radical idea (to some): Play video games with them. Connect with them. Join their world.
The more that you do that, the more they will actually begin to open up, trust you, and in a weird paradox… play video games less.
So in short: playing video games with them leads them to play video games less.
But does this actually work in reality?
Here are the results from some members of our AE+ support group after they tried this:
In short: they want connection. The way that they connect is through video games. So go connect with them!
But what about when they really are playing too much?
There are times when people with Asperger’s play video games so much that it is to the detriment of their life. We’ve heard the stories of some kids with AS ignoring homework, going to the bathroom, eating, sleeping, and other vital tasks just so they can play video games.
After all, one of a parent’s biggest nightmares is that their child will end up like the guy that died after playing World of Warcraft for 19 hours straight.
So yes, there is a point when it is time to intervene. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be mean about it. You can still approach the situation in a non-confrontational way.
Ideally, you set expectations, rules, and consequences ahead of time. The Responsibility Agreement is a great way to do that.
But in those rare circumstances where something needs to be done, here’s what to do:
#1 – Zoom out. Many of the problems people come to us with aren’t actually problems at all. They are just created by the parents/teachers/therapists because of worrying/anxiety and uncomfortable feelings.
In short: make sure there actually IS a problem. Give yourself 24 hours to look at the situation from another perspective. Ask yourself, “How could this be a good thing?”
There’s a big difference between playing video games for a few hours each day, and playing for 19 hours straight with no breaks. I guarantee you, the guy that died from doing that marathon video game session did not just do that once and then die. It was a prolonged pattern over months (if not years).
Trust that you’ll see such a problem well in advance if it does happen.
#2 – Validate & Set new expectations
Remember that they are scared and in Defense Mode, and approach from a place of wanting to help. Validate their current feelings, and then set clear expectations ahead of time with reasons why these new expectations are happening. This would be a great time for a “Yes, and” statement, such as “Yes, you can play video game as much as you want, and you can do it as long as you maintain your other life duties first (eating, sleeping, homework, etc).”
Then follow up with a Responsibility Agreement to solidify the expectations going forward. I wish I had known about this approach earlier because it would have saved countless nights of shouting matches, stress, yelling, and meltdowns.
The Responsibility Agreement has become a staple in our lives and the lives of many of our clients as well and is really easy to implement, once you know how.