Wired magazine has a short article which highlights the positive and negative aspects of online gaming for kids on the autism spectrum. MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft) encourage social interaction via in-game texting and voice which prompt socially unskilled or timid kids to practice in a fairly structured environment. Ian Bates, one of the boys featured in the Wired article shares how hard it is for him to communicate with others and the support the game gave him has helped him improve his skills and even his willingness to talk with others.
On the other hand, the article warns that the intricate, almost never ending details of such a huge world can be addictive to kids on the spectrum and they can have a difficult time leaving the game for other activities. The same game that promotes social interaction can at the same time be a shield against face-to-face relationships. This makes for a tough decision for parents: should I let my child play?
Of course, this is never just one decision; it is one parents have to make over and over again. Parents can find articles like this one in Wired to be helpful in making those decisions and for giving them points to cover when consulting with their children about the issues involved. Sometimes bringing in a psychologist can also help both the parents and the children understand the issues, the concerns, the worries, and also the possible benefits of playing MMORPGs. I have helped families not only calmly discuss these points but set up systems for deciding when too much is too much or when skills learned in the game are ready to be tried out IRL (in real life).