One of the biggest struggles I deal with when it comes to my mentees who have autism and other special needs tends to be focused on video game “obsessions.” This often means staying indoors for long periods of time without getting much exercise, time outside, or chances for socialization with peers. When I give talks at schools and to parents about growing up on the autism spectrum I talk about how some people with autism get focused on a key interest for a long period. When this happens, it could become their only interest. Video games can become that only interest.
Then out of nowhere Pokemon Go came out, and everything changed.
My mentees, who had loved going on their Nintendo DS to play new versions of the Pokemon game were now downloading this app on their phones and going outside to play.. It was incredible. Xbox and PlayStation 4 had been put aside for sunshine and exercise.
The more they played, the more positive reinforcement they received every time they were able to catch a Pokemon. They told me the “experience points” they received made them feel good about themselves when they were able to level up. Later, I would learn several of them were meeting with their peers to go to their local parks to hang out and catch Pokemon together.
Growing up on the autism spectrum I loved role-playing video games I’d played on my Gameboy or PlayStation 2. If it wasn’t for my other interests in things such as sports and theater, I could have seen myself being stuck on that activity for even longer than I was.
I downloaded Pokemon Go myself to see what the buzz is about, and I have to say it’s made me feel more positive every time I’ve caught a new Pokemon.
Going forward, I hope I can encourage my mentees in high school during these summer months to consider playing Pokemon Go as long as they have other activities to fill out their schedules.
Through moderation, I have seen this help expand my physical activity and and lower my overall anxiety. For younger kids on the spectrum, I’d encourage parents to start doing local walks in their areas on weekends with other parents in their schools and neighborhoods to see if there is an interest in starting a “Pokemon village.”
So enjoy the viral sensation that is Pokemon Go! Not everyone is going to love this, but it means the world to some individuals out there.