He Said, She Said

Back when we discovered BGG in 2004, my wife Robin (helenoftroy), and I, started recording plays and posting session reports under "The Honeymooners" moniker. It's hard to imagine eight years have passed since! Therefore, feeling nostalgic, I'm bringing "The Honeymooners" back and adding our two precocious boys, Bailey and Jakob, to the roster. This blog will record sessions and comments regarding our current game play and how we're introducing gaming concepts to our children. Enjoy!
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Autism and Gaming, Our family's personal story about our son's mental and social development through gaming

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Many friends on BGG already know about some of the trials my family has had throughout the development of our oldest son, Bailey. He didn’t speak very much. He still doesn’t speak that much. When he did start speaking at three and a half years old, it was not in sentences, only label words.

I would watch his speech therapist and replicate some of her activities with him. Looking back, I am a fairly certain that the speech therapist felt very uncomfortable with me watching her so closely and quizzing her about what she did and why. But I appreciated all that I had learned from her. I realized the importance of getting him frustrated in order to force him to learn to communicate.

Most of his communication was done through sensory activities and games like Go Away Monster, Balancing Moon, Don’t Break the Ice, Connect Four, Penguin Pile Up, Cranium Cariboo, and Let's Go Fishin'. At 3 and 4, he was an avid sorter. He would use his books to build paths across his floor.

His favorite games were Go Away Monster, Balancing Moon, Don’t Break the Ice, and Penguin Pile Up. Go Away Monstertaught him how to take turns because I could present him with the bag, he would draw and place his tile in the picture. He liked building his room. Balancing Moon, Don’t Break the Ice and Penguin Pile Up were great dexterity games for him which he could play on his own. He could decide how to place things to balance. He learned basic problem solving skills or he just liked holding the little toys and seeing what would happen when he puts them different places; either way, it was a fun little activity. Plus, he loves penguins, and he still does.

There were games that didn’t work like Hisss that I felt should have. Since he liked sorting, he did enjoy the matching of colors but he did not like how the snakes were not lined up. Operation and Crocodile Dentistscared him because of the noise and the sudden vibration and movement.

I wrote a geeklist awhile back detailing his entire collection

We also started using the PBS/Sesame Street online learning games. At 4, he became quite obsessive about the computer games and extremely skilled with the mouse. He became an earlier reader through his desire to play games. We didn’t know how long he had been reading because of the lack of verbal skills. His reading skills developed earlier than his verbal skills.

During this time, we were dealing with mostly sensory integration issues. It was not until he got a little older when we started to address the social issues. He did not deal with large groups of people or crowds very well. Going out to dinner, we would try to face him away from the door and/or toward the wall as much as possible. People moving around in the background or walking around his chair was difficult for him. The more crowded it was, the more he felt he needed more space.

And, it is always difficult to deal with a social situation when there are added social expectations placed on the parents and a child. It took some time but I have trained myself not to feel people looking at me and deaf to the comments. It is difficult when he’s hitting the tops of his legs with his fists. He started hitting himself this past year. We’ve been combating this with deep hugs, reminding him that he was bruising himself. This realization has helped a little. People do not always understand what situation another person is dealing with, even family members at times.

We started bringing his electronic games in situations that were difficult for him. Granted, we get some flak for it at times: the whole kids are always plugged into something attitude.

My son’s obsession for video games was growing; it is still growing actually. It started with his Leapster and transitioned into the DS, Wii games, and facebook building games. He now plays on the Kindle Fire with great apps likes Where’s My Water and Angry Birds. His favorite video games are any Kirby games, especially Epic Yarn, Sonic games, SimsCity, and any lego games especially the Harry Potter one that allows him to build his own levels and play inside them. He often swipes IPhones and shows family members how to play some of their apps. I know he gets rewarded regularly at school with IPad time but I also believe he is allowed to borrow the teachers’ IPhones.

Unlike the board games, the video games did not encourage him to pick up social skills. Like many on the autism spectrum, social skills are not intuitive; they are learned. Currently, his teachers are using social stories to train him; however, he has picked up interesting things while playing SimCity like what happens when you are mean or nice to someone and how different people have different interests and how to identify the different trends to determine someone’s interest. He is fascinated with the word Geeky. Video games allowed him to build his own world and control it without being affected by other people. Thus, he is left alone. I’m not saying video games are bad for him. He needs his time to relax and get away from the overly stimulated social situations. I’m sure it is refreshing to control another world, considering he has difficulty functioning in this one.

Since he has difficulty with social situations, things did come up in his mainstreamed classroom as well as at home like his inability to cope with losing games. He would scream, throw pieces, or flip the game board. We started using games like Drakon and Cave Troll where there was less an emphasis on the winner and more on a goal which allowed him to process there is a winner but there will be a next time. And, the players are not in direct conflict with each other. It took a while but he started to learn that it was okay to not win every time. He would just try again. By not throwing a fit, people would want to play with him again and he’d get another opportunity to possibly win the game. He could refine his strategy which he did.

He was about 7 years old when he started playing Drakon very competitively. He liked collecting the gold from the dragon; however, game rules were ingrained for him as rules tend to be. When the objective states you must get 15 gold coins to win, he was upset to get that 16th or 17th coin which resulted in his win. But, he would insist that it was not 15 coins.

He is now 9 years old. He’s a phenomenal kid, a good big brother to our seven year old son. He stomps us all at Kids of Carcassonne. He does not like luck based games because he wants a reason why he loses.

He loves cooperative games like Forbidden Islandand Castle Panic. The only complainant he had with Forbidden Islandwas the scary skull on the meter. He is also sad when we had to leave the sinking island because he wants to save the island not just our group. He helps us plan the trades each round of Castle Panic and loves “bamming” the orcs. He does little sound effects when we battle the bad guys. He originally was not interested in the game until he saw the 3D castle in the middle of the board. Since then, Castle Panic has become his new favorite.

He is quite the little adventurer and a creative roleplayer. He has been playing a campaign with Hilary and Jakob called Hole in the Side of the Hill. He loves games like Dark World, Catacombs, and other adventure/ battle games.

Bailey likes Catacombs because he gets to bam the bad guys by flicking the pieces. Catacombs is a great dexterity and fantasy adventure game. He loves dexterity games like Sorry Sliders and PitchCar Mini; they make him laugh a lot. He also likes dice games like Martian and Zombie Dice. He prefers Martian Dicebecause it is his game. He said, “Zombies are Jakob’s interest.” While the dice games are luck based, the risks are his choice. He likes games where his choices are meaningful.

Originally, he did not like party games like Apples to Apples. He felt the judging was too arbitrary because he is such a realistic, factual based guy. However, when we played Crappy Birthday and Say Anything Family Edition with him and his brother, we focused on how it was a game about knowing each other and how well we matched our answers or gifts with the person. It was a great social lesson for him, forcing him to think about others, something that is very difficult for someone with autism. It helps that each person is engaged each round. We all had a really great time. I wrote about our specific session here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/15745/say-anything-fam...

He’s still a hard sell sometimes getting him to the table for a game. Normally, if we have played a game or two of Angry Birds Jenga Death Star, we can transition him into a family game. He is obsessed with Angry Birds and has asked me to build Angry Birds Jenga Death Star every day.

Board games have really helped him understand how to interact with other people, build on his already deductive mind, and allows us to become a part of his world. He is sometimes so difficult to interact with because he prefers to do things on his own. Board games can force the issue and get him talking to us about the game as well as things he’s learned at school by making connections with the game and his lessons from school. He’s learning about budget and economics at school, something I would not have known unless a game unlocked this connection to give him an opportunity and reason to share this with us.
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