Aspergers Teens and Online Gaming Obsessions


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...


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

•    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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Anonymous said...

My 3 year old has a major addiction to games. Mostly pc games but also ipod, cell phone, etc. First thing when waking up he demands games on the pc. We have had to hide the wii and xbox because it has gotten so bad. He will have a tantrum when I tell him no. I don't know what to do. Do I continue to monitor and limit games or do I allow it because it stimulates him better than anything else? I already have a 15 year old that is a pc addict. I don't want a repeat. Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

My son is 10 and is dx'd w/ AS. He goes to a great school for kids with special needs that serves him well. He's happy and well adjusted at school according to teachers and his social worker. Things are not so rosy at home, however.

Our biggest problem right now is his addiction to the computer and the couple of games he plays on it. I take a lot of the blame here because the computer is about the only thing my son likes so I've let him have it -- pretty much with no time limit. I know this is wrong and I know I'm supposed to limit it for many reasons - not the least of which is that he will play on it to the exclusion of anything else -- and that is the problem.

Any outing is a problem because it cuts into his time on the computer ... When we are out - it's all about when are getting home so he can go back on the computer. Getting him to go out anywhere when we have free time - like the weekend is awful. He doesn't want to do anything and if I force it - it's unpleasant for everyone. When we are home he will not do anything else but the computer .. no "play" of any kind, no reading, drawing, etc. He will watch a little t.v. before bed and he does do his homework without question.

SO - the question is - how do we come back from this ... As you can imagine attempts to limit are met with major tantrums/meltdowns. He may hit me and slam the door to the bedroom where he will stew until whatever time he can get back online. Do we involve the school social worker so they can talk about this with him and support whatever we try to do at home? Do we just say one day -- okay, today you get 1 hour online - despite the fact that yesterday you had 4? And then just suck up what comes next?

Thanks for your help. I'm really dreading this.

Anonymous said...

My son is 7 and completely obsessed with electronics - tv, computer, psp, wii... you name it. Like any good parent I limit his time using these devices. The problem is that he doesn't know what to do with himself the rest of the time. Right now I have told him the electronics are 'open' from 6:30-7:30. All he does when he gets home is constantly either ask me what time it is or look at the clock and figure how long until things are open. I make him go outside with his siblings but he doesn't want to do anything. All he can think about is when he will be able to do the electronics. I have tried changing the open time to right after school. That too doesn't work either. The fits of rage and violence he has when told to turn it off are awful. Keep in mind that I always give a 5 minute warning and make sure that it is at the end of a show and not in the middle. There have been times when he lost his electronic priviledges for the day or several days. It is amazing how on those days he CAN find something to do. It's like now his mind is free from thinking about electronics so he is able to think of other things to do. I have been thinking about cutting out electronics completely on school nights. The only thing with this is that I have two other kids who enjoy tv as well. I have no problems with allowing them to watch 30min or so before bedtime. I think for them it helps them get settled and ready for bed. I hate to deny them just because their brother can't handle it. I just wish that he could enjoy himself while waiting for the open time. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

My 6 year son is basically addicted to his laptop. His special interest has become the angry birds video-game, and if he would be left to his own he would literally spend the entire day in front of the laptop playing that game, or watching youtube videos related to that game. At times he will do other stuff on the computer like surf the web, or draw pictures. He is amazingly computer literate for his age, so at least there was some benefit to his exposure to the computer.

My question is how much of a special interest is too much. I know I need to limit his usage, but I need some guidelines. I tried in the past to get him into sports like soccer and ice skating and it was like pulling teeth getting him there, and once he was there he would not take part.

So I decided not to force him into anything, now I am at the point that I am offering him choices ( guitar, swimming, drums, piano) - but he does not want to do anything other than spending time with the laptop.

Robin M said...

We have the same issue so established rules when it comes to computers and gaming. My son is 15. He's allowed to play 1 hour of video games. He's abused his internet privileges a few too many times so his usage is very limited. His school computer doesn't have internet right now and the only thing he does on it is his math. Any other school work that needs to use the internet is done on my computer and we work together.

He loves to write so I have a computer set up in his room again without internet It's set for certain hours 8 - 10 a.m. and 5 - 8 p.m. for him to do his story writing. Automatic shutdown during the rest of the time. I'll allow him at most 1 hour of free internet time on my laptop. Supervised of course.

The limits are necessary because all the playing overwhelms his brains which means more arguments, more meltdowns. The computer and the video games are the things we use discipline since they are his joys. You'll be allowed to do it when you are done with such and such. We've learned to use his obsessions to our advantage in correcting his behavior.

We have had technology free weeks when it all gets to be too overwhelming and it does work. He drives me crazy for a couple days talking my ear off, but then settles down to reading and drawing. We just have to stick to it and be strong.

Robin M said...

Some suggestions for things I found that have worked for my kiddo over the years.

1)definitely limit the amount of time to play. 1 hour max for all technology. I used to do one hour for video, one hour for tv and one hour for internet and it all backfired. Was just way too much. So limit it to one hour total period.

2) On school days, no technology until a specific time. For us it is 4:00 and I have to abide by it as well. Which was really hard but we survive. So no playing on the internet or games until all work is done for school. So set a time and stick with it.

3) Schedules are wonderful things. Look at your kids interests and look at how they schedule their own things. Then come up with a schedule for when have playtime, reading, tv, lessons, quite time, etc.

4) Talking back or hitting is a immediate loss of privileges. When I get the but I wanna's, I tell him you can either play for 1 hour or not at all. What's your choice?

5) Major disrespect, major fitting about time to quit: loss of playing the next day or loss of choice about what to watch on tv and it's the other kids choice.

6) Set up the computer or tv to automatically shut down at a certain time.

7) Outings - They have to do and behave themselves in order to gain points in which to play their games. Set up a point system and have them work toward something such as a new game or activity they want to do.

8) Establish no technology days or weeks. We generally do a week at a time. They need a couple days to decompress and when they do, life is so much better.

Hope this helps!

Unknown said...

Man, im am 16 and I can tell you guys, playing video games is something we are born to do and limiting it sucks. My parents let me do what I want but video games were introduced at around 12 so I can control it. But seriously, its either that or depression for many, including me. The whole time I was a kid sucked and the only time I was happy was using my pc with 3 monitors playing csgo with friends and such. Its hard to understand, even for me. But all you gotta know is that its important to us and its more than addiction, its a need to think about anything else but the mess we live in

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