Aspergers Teens and Online Gaming Obsessions

Question

Our 15y/o son has always ‘marched to his own drummer,’ we just never really had a label for it. He is very smart and the computer became his life. In November, I ended up taking his computer away because he was failing his classes (we home school and he was taking some on-line classes), he was spending too much time on-line gaming and he was very involved with an on-line gaming clan that was appearing to be a very negative influence. (He has a history of ADHD treated with meds.)

After taking away the computer he had a major meltdown and refused to eat, leave his bed, participates in school/outside activities. We didn't know what to do. Consulted with several treatment centers, none of which would work with him b/c he is not violent, not in trouble with the law and not on drugs or alcohol. We are very thankful for that, but don't want to let it get to that point.

We met with a family counselor (we have tried counseling in the past without any progress) that was recommended and just couldn't seem to get anywhere so we insisted on a psychological evaluation - there had to be something we weren't seeing. His diagnosis came back as Aspergers, Depression and ADHD. We have had a lot of lying, refusal to do his responsibilities, refusal to do his school work etc... We have had to keep all computers and internet modems under lock and key. He can ‘hack’ into any password.

We have been working with Boy's Town in our home for the past two months. They have helped me a lot by being a sounding board, but nothing with my son. Their plan consisted of a parent class of which we watched the 5 or 6 videos, filled out an answer book and now they want us to find more in-depth work for his Aspergers because they don't feel trained in that.

I feel that the intense crisis is past but now we need to help our son learn to lead a responsible, successful life. I have been reading your handout that I purchased. Now where to begin...

Answer

Obsessions are one of the hallmarks of Aspergers, High-Functioning Autism, and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders. In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, Aspergers teens often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves.

Online gaming is a very popular obsession with Aspergers. However, don’t completely forbid your son to engage in this obsession. His use of the computer can be a great bargaining chip for you (i.e., he won’t work for what you want, but he will work for what he wants – and he wants to play computer games).

Breaking an obsession is like running a war campaign. If not planned wisely, or if you attempt to fight on many fronts, you're guaranteed to fail. The real issue here is the fact that your son spent too much time playing games, which resulted in poor academic performance. This resulted in a second issue, namely, his behavior took a turn for the worse after you took his computer away. Thus, he should be able to play video games, but within limits.

To make his games less seductive, find ways to minimize your son's downtime at home, especially those times when he is alone. Maybe he would be interested in arts and crafts, theater, martial arts, bowling, swimming, or movie-making. Maybe a social-skills group would be a good idea. Maybe he could join a youth group at your church or synagogue. Help your son find some activity that he likes and a place where he can do it.

Children with Aspergers and ADHD often lack the "internal controls" needed to regulate how much time they spend playing computer games. It's up to moms and dads to rein-in the use of the games. The first step is often the hardest. Both parents must agree on a set of rules:
  • How much time may be spent on a weekend day?
  • How much time may be spent playing the games on school nights?
  • If the child plays Internet-based games, which sites are acceptable?
  • Must chores be done first?
  • Must homework be done first?
  • Which games are taboo, and which are O.K.?

Once parents agree, sit down with your son and discuss the rules. Make it clear which rules are negotiable and which are not. Then announce that the rules start right now. Be sure you can enforce the rules (e.g., if your child is allowed to spend 30 minutes at computer games on school nights - and only after homework and chores are done - the game and game controls must be physically unavailable when he gets home from school). If games involve a computer or a television set, find a way to secure the system until its use is permitted. When the 30 minutes of playing are up, retake the controls. If he balks, he loses the privilege to play the game the following day. If you come into his bedroom and find him playing the game under the covers, he might lose the privilege for several days.

Give warning times: "You have 15 more minutes... You now have 10 minutes... There are only five minutes left." A timer that is visible to your son can be helpful. When the buzzer rings, say, "I know you need to reach a point where you can save the game. If you need a few more minutes, I will wait here and let you have them." If he continues to play despite your step-by-step warnings, do not shout or grab the game or disconnect the power. Calmly remind him of the rules, and then announce that for each minute he continues to play, one minute will be subtracted from the time allowed the next day (or days). Once you get the game back, lock it up. When he finally regains the privilege to play, you can say, "Would you like to try again to follow the family rules?"

Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens
 
COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said... As a parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome, I learned that children have a very heightened sense of justice. Instead of giving ultimatums, give them fair choices. Children know when a choice is not really a choice but a parent leveraging a demand. My two sons are grown adults now, 30s. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is part of the puzzle here: so it is important to give them choices, reward for good choices, and lots of routine and structure. My oldest son with Asperger could not function without his computer. Taking it away completely would cause a meltdown of cosmic significance--you might as well melt the sun. Instead, time at the computer was earned. Having visual written cues to transition from one thing to the next, rewards for completing. Once we learned about O.D.D.S. and how that works into O.C.D. and the Pervasive Depressive Disorder, I learned as a parent, to provide routine, structure, and fair choices not ultimatums. Putting an Asperger child into a meltdown by taking away their only means of real communication or escape (cocooning) would perhaps cause my oldest son to end his life. In fact, it wasn't until my son was in his second hospitalization for suicidal intent that the psychiatrist who debriefed us explained the 7 major components of Asperger Syndrome and explained some very important parenting styles which would help our son function much more smoothly in our world. Accepting that my sons are different and not forcing them into social situations where their peers hurt them and made fun of them, but only in structured social activities where they are not at risk was important. If any of this is helpful, hope it gives hope and that your son feels better soon.
•    Anonymous said... I've endured many harsh ignorant comments from family, church members, etc. who only see biological age but do not understand that my two sons are at about 8-10 years old as to mental maturity and they will never be like other adults. They can't live on their own because they don't have a sense of personal safety, don't understand money, time management, and would be extremely at risk for unscrupulous folks who might hurt them or take advantage of them. In my case, I am so thankful their older brother grew up and matured and he and his wife stepped in. The boys' father and step-mother have called my two sons idiots, lazy, rebellious...they were cruel. I'm am glad to read all the wonderful gifts and abilities your son has. My family participated in the U of WA Family Study of Autism with Dr. Geraldine Dawson and Dr. Julie Osterling--both very highly respected. I've learned so much over the last two decades. Very little, almost zero support back then for my boys and for parents. It has been a long road. My sons suffered so much from peers in school. And even a year or so ago, the one did not want to participate in board games and his older brother made a comment. I waited until the room was clear and said to my oldest, "Do you understand that for your brother, he loses these games every single time and it is not fun for him? Please do not ridicule or ever taunt him like that again. Look at it from his point of view." That is why I think they like their computers so much, because for the first time they can WIN at something and they don't have to try to be normal and fit in. I'm glad I could share anything about what I've been through and with my two sons if it helps. I got help 11 years ago from the DSHS here in my state for Phil's SSI from a social worker. My two sons are so smart and gifted musically, artistically, writing, and total masters of the computer and they're so nice and kind and just great young men. Praying you will make sure you get enough sleep and eat well, take your vitamins, and set a goal for getting the SSI application completed. Ask for help. Here we have an organization called WAPAS and they advocate for people with disabilities. Have you asked the ARC for help?
•    Anonymous said... I've met too many moms on these groups in the same boat as me and we all feel hopeless. People don't understand. They think he is full of excuses and lazy. I've seen my sons pain. They haven't. He says he isn't normal and life is too hard for him so why bother. He has in home therapy but is refusing services. I've been so occupied I haven't had the time or energy for an ssi application. I hear lots get denied. My son is so smart. He's a gifted writer and artist and I just want for him to be able too live independently some day. I recently went to court to gain guardianship of him because his functioning is very low. Thank you for your story. It gives me hope
•    Anonymous said... We got our son to the local community college at age 16 and he took the test for his HS diploma, passed with flying colors and began college at 16. Needed 504 Accommodations so we went through the college disability office. Is there counseling available? Someone who can come to the home through a community health care organization? I remember watching Rain Man, the movie, and understanding that these young men must be allowed to have their support systems. The computer seems to be the most non-threatening form of social communication. If you can, make peace with your son over his connection with his computer and ask him what he would like. If he understands that his computer will never be taken away, he may be much more willing to take the other little baby steps in his life. We make lists and do our best to avoid showdowns and do not give ultimatums. ODDS, OCD, and Pervasive Depressive Disorder are part of the Asperger 7 major components of behavior...so I heartily recommend that as the parent, you get as much support and help as you can. Also, introducing your son to other Asperger young men his age who are also computer nerds would help. My oldest son and his wife opened their home to the two with Asperger so they are no longer living with me and that seems to help also. Because sometimes I found my relationship with my oldest, who was the most depressed and most connected to his computer, needed some space of his own. He is doing much better. But the teen years and early 20s were a challenge. I had to learn to accept that my son's computer attachment represented an escape from what is mostly too much stimulation from the real world that he could not handle. And we regularly replace his 16" Peekachoo plush "friend" as that is his dearest companion that my son uses to talk to and he can express himself to that Peekachoo that he can't to people. These kids are so ignored by their peers or bullied by their peers and mostly invisible. It's hard on them. When the they know they are "different" they can get very depressed. But when they can reach out to others through their computers, that helps. Did you get SSI for your son? Hope so. We did and that pays for his medical and prescriptions. Hope this is helpful...in no way meant to soapbox...but having been through this, it is a long road but so worth it. My two sons are multi-geniuses and such wonderful kind individuals. But take away their computers would be like declaring WWIII, so once that issue was resolved, they could see the rest of life with a lot more cooperation They are both happy today and although they'll always live with their older brother and his wife, through their older brother they have friends. And the friends they make online through their music, animation and artistic gifts, are a blessing also.
•    Anonymous said... Your oldest son sounds like my 18 yo son. He threatens self harm at any attempt to take way his computer. He hadn't completed past 9th grade, isn't going to school or working or leaving the house and now not participating in in home therapy or behavior services. What's a parent to do? I worry about his future immensely

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