5 Ways Gaming Empowers Neurodivergent Youth

Post By:
Michelle Artreche
Created On:
June 13, 2022

5 Ways Gaming Empowers Neurodivergent Youth

The importance of play is critical when it comes to child and youth development—yet there has always been a divided opinion on video games, and how they impact youth. Autistic youth, on average, spend more time playing video games than neurotypicals; 41.4% of autistic adolescents and children spend free time playing video games compared to 18% of their neurotypical peers (Mazurek, Shattuck, Wagner, and Cooper 2013). Recent studies have shown the benefit of video game play for both neurodivergent and neurotypical folks, from improving motor skills to teaching self-compassion, and more. Check out these 5 ways neurodivergent youth are being empowered through gaming:

Encourages Social Interaction 

Some autistic folks face challenges developing language and nonverbal communication skills. Video games are a safe space to help build and grow these skills through regular interaction with other gamers. Neurodiverse students are given the opportunity to play without the anxiety of body language, facial expressions, and/or eye contact. Many games are built with multiplayer experiences that encourage cooperation with other gamers, in fact, more than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend, and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games—these stats affirm the world of gaming as a way to connect and share common interests.

Teaches Self-Compassion

It’s fairly common for autistic folks to experience extreme stress and anxiety over making mistakes. The fun of video games is that everyone makes mistakes while playing_if that wasn’t the case you would immediately win and your game experience would be pretty lackluster. Giving autistic youth the chance to play video games empowers them to become more comfortable with the idea of not being perfect, allowing them the space to hold more empathy for themselves.

Improves Flexible Thinking

Players are often faced with new challenges as they work their way through a game, whether it’s reaching a new level or new character interactions. Players have to be adaptive with their game strategy. It may be uncomfortable at first, but once it has been conquered, players can potentially improve their problem-solving skills and handle transitions smoothly in the real world.


Increases Literacy Mastery 

Video games with a heavy narrative can help youth improve their literacy, and even introduce words they might not come across elsewhere. Point-and-click adventure games, the style used in Ava is a perfect example of this, reading dialog between characters and making sense of the story. New research shows that 79% of youth who play video games also read material related to the medium. This includes in-game communications for 40% of the respondents, reviews and blogs for 31%, books for 22%, and fan fiction for 19%. A staggering 35% of the respondents also said that playing games made them better readers—the opportunity to read and study narratives to better understand plays a big role in these positive results. 


Builds Motor Skills

Playing video games requires some form of hand-eye coordination, whether they’re platforming around an asteroid populated by space armadillos (like in Ava’s second episode) or clicking to unlock a game component, the ability to synchronize eye and hand movements is needed. Games are known to help strengthen hand-eye coordination, as well as improve reaction time. 

We want to encourage you to meet your students where they are—to discover their special interests, whether it be a video or tabletop game, and find ways to creatively incorporate them into your lesson plans to best support your neurodivergent students. 

Our team constantly aims to empower neurodivergent youth and professionals to grow, play, and learn toward social-emotional success and self-advocacy through our game series. 

Interested in getting Ava for your therapy center or school for engaging, empowering social-emotional learning? Schedule a chat with us!

Reference List: 

Mazurek, M.O., Shattuck, P.T., Wagner, M., & Cooper, B.P. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of screen-based media use among youths with autism spectrum disorders.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(8), 1757-1767. 

Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/video-game 

New research shows video games improve literacy https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-08-12-new-research-shows-video-games-improve-literacy