Video Game Addiction in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

"I have a partner and many family members with an autism spectrum disorder, but the worst affected is our 19 year old son (will turn 20 next month). He has very limited social skills, isolates in his bedroom for hours on end, his eating pattern is poor, and so is his sleeping pattern. But he is addicted to a game on his computer. How do we as parents encourage him to spend less time on the computer, be a bit more social with the family, eat better, and sleep more?"

Playing electronic games provides repetition, consistency, and security in your son's life. Also, electronic games are predictable. He can count on the same actions and results every time he plays the games. 

Children and teens with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's want to feel safe and secure in their activities. The electronic games allow your son to follow predetermined rules that result in predictable outcomes.

It sounds like your son is concentrating on electronic games at the expense of his health. He spends time in front of a video screen that could be better spent learning new social skills, and practicing better eating habits and sleeping patterns.

Check into support groups for your son. There might be one in your local area. Support groups give advice on daily living skills and healthy lifestyles. Encourage your son to join one of these groups. He will meet young adults who are his age and may be experiencing similar difficulties with the autism spectrum disorders. In addition to information, a support group can give your son the opportunity to talk about his feelings about the disorder - and the help necessary for him to cope with adult responsibilities.

Another resource for your son is a therapist who can inform and teach your son social skills. A therapist or a psychiatrist might suggest Melatonin, which will help your son sleep better at night.

Your son is in his late teens, and he is fast approaching adulthood. You can use reasoning and negotiation instead of rules and orders. However, if the excessive computer use continues, you might need to move it into a room that restricts his access to it. Also, the computer can be used as a reward if your son tries new foods and establishes a regular pattern of sleep. Although your son is getting older, there are rules that are still effective in changing his behavior. You should establish those rules in your household.

As one mother of an Asperger's teen describes: "My 14-year old son is addicted to his iPad, and a forum for Dungeons and Dragons. He's doing great stuff, writing stories and everything, but we also have started limiting his time on there. It's really hard to do! We're trying the written, posted schedule thing currently. My teacher husband will be home in the evenings to help me enforce it. Sometimes I just get so tired of being the mean one, and my son has more persistence than both of us combined. But we're going to try!" 

In terms of nutrition, many kids on the autism spectrum suffer from food allergies, overgrowth of intestinal yeast, and sensitivity to sugar and dairy products. Consult a doctor to see if your son needs to adjust his diet. 

 Changing your son’s diet to wheat-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free products requires patience, because teens on the spectrum can be very strong-willed - and implementing change can be difficult for the both of you. See if other family members will adopt a diet similar to your son’s. This will make him feel integrated into the family. Also, read diet books, look into websites, and read advice from nutritionists.

Your son’s sleep patterns can be changed with consistent hours. He needs to establish a time that he will go to bed each evening and get up each morning. If he complains that he can't get to sleep or wake up at a given time, tell him that there are parts of our bodies called circadian rhythms, and they help our bodies rest. 

 If your son can get to bed at a specific time several nights in a row, the circadian rhythms in his body will reset and help him go to sleep and wake up at a given time each evening and morning. Remove all distractions from his bedroom to help him concentrate on rest and sleep.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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