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Dealing with autistic step son's video game obsession

Phoenixfury's picture

Last May I married the most wonderful lady and took her "mildly autistic" teen age step son under my wing. For the most part he is a good boy but he has a terrible video game addiction that is so bad it has affected him socially and at school. He refuses to make friends outside of the internet and the people he does know offline he can not hold a discussion without it becoming video game related. It doesn't matter what the subject is, it could be about the death of a loved one and someone he'll find a way to turn the discussion around to video games.

He showed signs of bad behavior at school by pounding on his desk and leaving his desk to go to another classroom with computers that had computer games installed on them. When we found out from his teachers he had done this, my wife and I agreed to cut his gaming time from 8 hours a day (before we got married he was gaming all the time) down to 4 hours a day. The problem here is he would just hop on my Apple TV and get on Youtube and watch videos about video games and game walk troughs. Despite cutting down his hours he would just continue to talk eat and sleep about video games. When encouraging him to find other things to do didn't work, I decided to lock him out of YouTube on the Apple TV because I felt watching video game walk throughs was the same as playing them which was doing nothing to resolve the issue. This only lead him to watch cartoons on TV more but at least he was doing something other than keeping his mind on video games. His constant talk of video games slowed down but never did completely stop.

Now here's the rub.. I read an article a few months ago about how iPod Touch's were being used in some work places to help autistic workers be better organized. I thought this was a fantastic idea because this boy won't do a thing unless I tell him to do his chores. I did get him an iPod touch 1st gen and so far it's main function has been to keep track of his video game / computer time times which has worked out well. I told him I would leave Youtube enabled for him just as long as he did not use it for viewing video game related content. Unfortunately my wife decided to see what he had been viewing on the iPod's YouTube and low and behold the majority of the video's were video game related. She requested that I disable YouTube which I did. What I heard later from him is that he was unable to find the YouTube app so he just viewed videos through Safari. So I disable Safari as well. He got very upset and asked why access to YouTube and Safari was removed and my wife told him because 4 hours for gaming is more than enough and she in agreement with me she said that watching videos about video games was just to much. He had a melt down and went on a pity party (publicly on Facebook) about how video games have ruined his life and that they are evil and dead to him.

This morning as I took him to school the conversation was quite interesting. I asked him how he was doing and he said "I'm doing just fine!" However his tone was very angry. I tried to explain to him the problem wasn't video games directly but that he wasn't doing other things and being a kid. He still insisted that he wasn't angry (which he said angrily) and that he won't be playing games ever again. When I explained to him it was both our decision for the reasons I already stated he blamed his mom and addressed me by saying have a good day and called me by my legal name. This is not a happy kid and I'm concerned about how his attitude will be at school today.

I'm optimistic this will blow over at some point but I'm worried he'll resent us for doing what we feel was the right thing to do as his parents. Although I never had kids of my own, I knew was I was getting into coming in and I wouldn't trade my boy for anyone else in the world. I just wish we could make him understand we have his best interest at heart and love him very much.

I know this was long so I'm done blowing steam for now...

not2sureimsaneanymore's picture

This might be an unpopular opinion but I think I can offer some different perspective. Whether you incorporate it into how you deal with him or not is up to you.

I'm sorry but, for some, video games are their social circles, video games are where their friends are. For the shy and the awkward, they find refuge hiding behind an avatar and making friends based on their skill in the game, rather than what they look like or how popular they are at school. I personally think, unless they are affecting his schoolwork, video games are perhaps his outlet, given he is on the spectrum.

I come from a generation like your stepson. On the computer 24/7, and video games becoming a method of socialization. Some of my good friends were made over online multiplayer games.

I think cutting down his video game hours was a good idea, but not necessarily locking him out of Youtube and Safari--I would have limited those hours too.

See, kids on the spectrum will obsess over a single thing and excel at it. It could be as strange as a butterfly collection, to astronomy, to biology, to rocks, to a martial art, and they learn to navigate through that limited society. They talk nonstop about it. Your stepson happened to have grabbed video games as his. A friend of mine whose child is on the spectrum can only have a functioning conversation about maps--that's his obsession.

Find him a new obsession and it might slip his focus off of it.

Phoenixfury's picture

That's a lot of the problem. I've heavily encouraged him do new things but he doesn't want to. In a few years he'll be a legal adult and I'm very concerned that if we allow him to continue on as he has, he won't be able to form relationships which is important in a working environment. He is capable of working as we can get get him to do his chores if we tell him to.. But the biggest problem right now with even that is he lacks initiative.

As for YouTube on the iPod, he was told initially he could only use it during his gaming hours on the consoles / PC but I thought I was doing him a favor when I told him he could watch any videos he wanted any time as long as they were not video game related. Unfortunately he abused that privilege and it was my wife's decision to take YouTube away on the iPod.

Granted his grades are good but he has a couple of classes he struggles with and gets very frustrated in. When he told his teacher he didn't have to do anything and would continue to be disruptive to get out of having to do his school work, that's when we decided we had to drastically cut his hours down. His teacher even told me he was to focused on video games to concentrate on his school work citing that he would just talk about them to much and leave class to play games in another class. Since everything is video game related to him, the punishment fit the crime.

byebyebirdie's picture

^^^^this^^^ i agree with this i know a lot about this sort of behavior because my bio kid is socially awkward and never really made any friends no matter how hard he tried and i tried to get him involved in many activities and still do. my child is on the auristic spectrum scale although he is not severe as some children but he has poor social skills and ADHD and some OCD problems but he is highly intelligent so he really just keeps to him self at school and with the video games and online "friend" he can talk and play without and real contact. its safe for him....
i know this is hard but for some kids this is the only way they "interact" with peers. i hate it sometimes myself and i do have my child involved in a weekly sport and talk to him about friends, games and doing other things but gaming is his life and the you tube thing omg i can totally relate to my kid wathces other people play games on you tube. yes this may be weird to you and me but the kid loves it....

Phoenixfury's picture

Another issue with YouTube is he was constantly watching videos on it. Thankfully we switched from an ISP that had a 150GB cap to "unlimited". However my concern is most ISP's that say they have an unlimited cap also have bandwidth abuse policies that when abused they cut your speed down or disconnect you. Every now and then we've had our speed completely cut down to nothing and I can't help but assume that's because our ISP's bandwidth abuse software was kicking in making us miserable. When he wasn't on YouTube he was on Hulu or Netflix. When I wanted to watch either one my video would die... I know the day is coming we'll get a letter from our ISP complaining about our bandwidth usage. Not that I'm completely blaming him, but he had been watching streaming video from the time he gets home from school until it was his time to play games, then continue streaming again. I've been encouraging him all along to watch satilite TV so we don't run into bandwidth concerns. He doesn't care. He thinks the internet is solely for his use. He thinks my desktop pc is his.. If I need it, he gets an attitude about it when I tell him I need it. Before we moved into an apartment together he was king of the castle and got what he wanted. Now that he has two parents that are enforcing rules, he gets grouchy and doesn't understand why there are rules to begin with. My wife and I have our work cut out for us.

_anon_'s picture

It seems to me it might be a good idea to use this obsession. Does he know what he wants to be when he grows up? He should probably consider something in video game programming or design.

If you manage to make the video game obsession a career goal as well, it should help you encourage him to participate in other activities. Certainly all of his school classes will be relevant for that--math is obvious for programming, but even social studies and history would be important for designing a lot of games. You might be able to get him motivated to put some effort into a lot of different things if you manage to sell them as being useful for a future video game designer/programmer.

I think he would be happier working with his interest, especially with the autism making it such an obsession for him, instead of feeling like he has to fight it all the time. If you can make him starting thinking that school is really important because he needs that knowledge to make good video games, and needs the grades to get into a good college video-game-making-type program, I think you'll all have an easier time.

Phoenixfury's picture

Been there done that, bought the tee shirt. His self esteem is so low he thinks he's not smart enough to do anything there fore he doesn't want to even try to do anything else. Trying to tell him anything encouraging is always met with "I doubt it" or "I don't think so." The worst being "my brain is to small.." I told him the small brain excuse isn't valid, Albert Einstein is well known for having a smaller than average brain size but he was one of the smartest men on the planet.

ybarra357's picture

This maybe off the wall, but who is he talking to online? Kids? Is he supervised when he is online? Someone like your SS would be a prime candidate for an internet predator.

Phoenixfury's picture

He friends other people he met through his online games, typically through Steam. One of our first rules was going to be that he had to hand over all of his passwords but that was met with a melt down and the threat of him deleting all of his accounts including Steam. I have a lot of money wrapped up in his Steam account so he's got that one over me. We trust that he's making good friends but we watch his Facebook wall all of the time. When he posts he's never posting to anyone specific, he's just posting about what he's thinking about at the time.

Phoenixfury's picture

I'm having a lot of difficulty in trying to find out what he's interested in outside of videogames. I'm not a dentist but pulling teeth must be much easier to do. I've asked to the point I had to give up or go crazy trying to get him to express what he's interested in doing.

He doesn't care unless the super hero is a video game character. There is a super hero Musium nearby. I tried to get him to go and was only met with great resistance..

edwardmuphy1's picture

Informative stuff. Games are always, the most important element just like movies in our life especially entertaining point of view and has great importance for a happy and healthy life. These activities have great advantages like if we talk about horror movies. Five years ago the Ut was an experiment is to study the impact of horror movies on the human psyche. The result of this experiment was the conclusion that watching movies, including scenes of violence, have quite a profound effect on a person. And not only the psyche, but also in physiology. During the experiment, participants were asked to view three films from different genres: documentary, action, romance. Each was accompanied by viewing blood test. The results showed that the documentary and melodrama not affect the chemical composition of the blood. But militant causes "boiling" blood. There was a sharp increase in the level of hormones and antibodies, which by their nature must contend with the immediate danger. But because people did not do anything, but simply went to watch a movie on cinema or online theater , switched to an antibody to search for threats inside the body. Similar results apply to the impact of horror movies on the human body while watching another film show.

SweetMom's picture

Go in there and interact with him, take part in the video game and play one on one games. In return tell him you'd like for him to do something you like to do as well, buddy system. He is going to go back to the video gaming because it relaxes him. Being autistic is already hard when a part of the brain does not function like the rest of the peoples in the world. He will believe everything you tell him so tell him that you understand the video game relaxes him but he has to move around if he doesn't wanna to have health problems. The body has to move. I took my son on walking routines. He loves to shop with me, he loves exercising. Talk.. You don't think they listen but they do. You have a lot of obstacles ahead of you, good luck!

NovaKy's picture

I have a 9-year-old with moderate autism. It sounds like you are doing great. We are just starting the video game and iPad obsession after dealing with a 5 year train obsession. Hang in there, Dad! My husband has been stepdad for 3 years now and still can't tackle getting him to dress or brush his teeth without my help. It's tough to parent (and especially step parent) these kiddos.

juststressedbeyondbelief's picture

Ehh, I have a mixed opinion here. Outside time is important, yes, but with a lot of kids on the spectrum - video games are the only place that they really shine.

I'm not condoning bad behavior, but let the kid play some mine craft and watch some walkthroughs on youtube. I had a severely autistic best friend while I was in high school. He was extremely socially ackward, loud, sometimes violent. But when he got home, he'd hit me up online and we'd play, he'd a totally normal dude that was better at the game than me. Big confidence booster for him, and the stuff he made in minecraft was nuts.

Rags's picture

I applaud you and your DW as the quality parents that you are.  Rather than letting your special needs son game himself into drooling idiocy you are forcing him to begin engaging in the real world.

We purged all computer games from our home when SS-28 was in ~6th-ish grade. Though not special needs, like your SS, he could not have a conversation that was not about video games.  I refused to have those discussions with him. I would tell him, tell me about something that you actually did, how you used your own imagination instead of paying someone else for their imagination, and repeat over and over for him to tell me about something that HE actually did.  To aid in that transition I came up with physical activities that made computer games a real life activity.  I would take him on various video game adventures at local and state parks where we could crawl through caves and rock tunnels battling "Orks", "Ogres","Trolls", etc, find "swords" (sticks), battle each other, throw rocks at "Dragons", scale "castle walls", etc, etc, etc...... 

To this day he cannot tell me about one memorable experience he had gaming, but he can talk for hours about the real life adventures we had together using his imagination and interests. 

The only time he spent gaming after we disconnected him was when he would play video games or computer games with his friends together, in the same space, screaming, yelling, and interfacing together as they were gaming.... at one of their homes.  

I think that you and his mom are doing exactly the right thing.  Gaming is not real life, it builds zero marketable skills, it creates zero real life relationships, and IMHO is a complete waste of time. Give him fantasy literature to read where his mind can run amok on the characters, etc... rather than facilitating him getting carple tunnel and arthritis from countless hours of gaming.

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the draw of computer gaming.  I did some gaming in the days of monochrome computer screens, and I played Doom when it first came out.  I played it regularly for a couple of weeks until I beat it.  I did play some games with my SS for a short time but realized I could not stand him when he was gaming.  So, his mom and I decided to end gaming in his world.

He is now 28, thriving professionally, and he does game quite a bit.  But, he manages it and does not allow it to adversely impact his REAL life.   When he launched he was under the hairy eyeball supervision of experts at getting performance out of immature young people. He chose to make the USAF his career and those amazing leaders have been exactly what he needed to thrive professionally and as an adult. His real life does not become polluted by the fake world of gaming.

Interestingly, he did attempt to blend his gaming world and his real world.  He and a group of his gaming friends all met for a real world weekend.  They traveled from all over the country for their real world weekend.  He ended up not liking any of them.  He was really shaken by how disappointed he was in all of them.  It turned out that none of them had been truthful about who they were, what they were, or how they lived their lives.  Their entire existence was just as fake as the digital world they chose to live in. That was a very effective smack in the face for SS and he has taken his online gaming "friends" with a grain of salt ever since.

Keep up the great work.  With parents like you and your DW on his side, this kid has a real chance at transitioning into the real world, dealing with his Autism effectively enough to mainstream in his life, and have the confidence you and his mom having his back will provide.

Keep up the great work. 

I applaud what you are doing.