Autism and Gaming: Good and Bad

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).

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Street Closure Main St and Newell

The City of Walnut Creek is closing parts of Newell and S. Main St. This may disrupt your ability to get to the office easily and on time. Ambulances going to Kaiser’s Emergency Department will further make a mess of the traffic.

The City’s explanation here.

The City’s map of the closure and detours here.

Time: 7 am to 6 pm

Date: Mondays through Fridays from November 5th through (no official end date given).

Marc’s Explanation

Traveling south on South Main. The road is closed at Newell, before reaching my office. Don’t use South Main street from downtown to get to my office. Use California or Broadway.

Traveling north on South Main. You can get to my office just fine. You may not turn left onto Newell.

Traveling east on Newell. You may only make a right turn onto South Main, which is what you would normally do to reach my office. This right turn is the only option available; you may not drive straight or make a left turn.

Traveling west on Newell. You may not proceed through the South Main intersection to continue on Newell. You may only turn right or left. You turn left to get to my office.

The City is tearing down the white tall building on the corner of Newell and South Main.

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“The difference between theory and reality is smaller in theory than in reality”

Katy Levinson, Roboticist, in a video posted on (She swears and drinks alcohol while presenting, so perhaps not a video for the younger set.)

The quote is a reminder for me that I have learned more about the craft of psychology from listening to clients than I ever did in school. Books cannot teach therapy. I suspect the quote goes for about every career out there.

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Nostalgia for the future

Michael Ian Black caught me up in his description of the pain that goes with parenthood. He shared about the tears, hope and pain that comes along with raising a child. You know your child will grow up, your child will leave you, and your child won’t care all that much about you. “You brought this pain upon yourself by having me,” she will think.

“…these tears are nostalgia in its deepest sense, the sharp pain of remembering and the equally sharp pain of hope. There is no word for feeling nostalgic about the future, but that’s what a parent’s tears often are, a nostalgia for something that has not yet occurred. They are the pain of hope, the helplessness of hope, and finally, the surrender to hope. That’s what parenthood is, ultimately, the hope of casting a message in a a glass bottle into the sea with no sense of where it will end up. We have no control, none of us.”(You’re Not Doing It Right, p. 106)

We are always behind the curve. When we are slow to grasp that our children are growing up, we parent them at an age younger than they actually are. We believe we have more control, and in fact a duty to control our children–to keep them safe and to coach them. They have to push us away because we love a younger version of who they are right now.

Sure there are therapeutic issues at hand, and I ought to encourage you to come see me if this is a problem between you and your children. Be that as it may, Black reminds me that it really hurts to be a parent and love a little creature who took a piece of your heart and who is reckless with it.

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Every 15 Minutes Helps

Drivers now die at a rate of one ever 19 to 20 minutes, Officer John Pruitt of the CHP told us last night at College Park High School’s Every 15 Minute’s program. He says that kids are driving more safely since E15 started, and fewer kids are dying in alcohol-related car collisions.

When it was m turn to speak, my question to the parents was, “Wouldn’t you like to know if your child makes good choices?” I bet you would desperately like to know. You cannot always be around to monitor, make sure of or enforce their decisions.  Your teens needs to make life-and-death decisions about drinking, driving, hanging out with drug-using friends, and texting while driving.

I spoke about ways to know if your child is capable of making good choices. They best way: give your child choices and get out of the way of the consequences that follow. The choices, of course, have to be within the bounds of what they can safely handle. But within those limits, you will gain tons of data about their ability to choose. Then you will better know if you should let your teen drive.

This morning, in a bit of serendipity, Love and Logic, my favorite parenting helpers, said they have a new CD that discusses how to parent teens in regards to them driving (link). (I haven’t listened to this CD, however, past CDs tend to be full of great nuggets of parenting advice, though it can be a bit disorganized and hard to find that nugget once it has past.) If you have listened to it, please let us know in the comments.

Have you figured out ways to know if your child makes good choices? Let us know in the comments below.

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Finally, Good News About Social Media(?)

Kids who blog lessen their social distress, says an article from the APA. Kids who blog about their lives, and especially those who open their blog to comments, reduced evidence of social distress compared to kids who kept a private diary or did nothing. The authors of the study, Boniel-Nissim and Barak, say that all the comments to the blogs that accept them were positive.

But hold on, what if a child received a negative comment? What then? The study was done in Israel, which makes me wonder about the ability to transfer its findings cross-culturally, especially given the often mean-spirited or trolling nature of blog comments in the US. (You should see some of the comments I delete from this blog, and I’m a well adjusted adult therapist, not an adolescent forming my identity, in part from what my peers think about me.) I believe this article is too blithe about kids putting up their personal angst for all to see.

Also, there are all the other concerns about online privacy, information being searchable and lasting for ever.

The kids in this study were not blogging already, they were asked to for the purposes of the research. This may add a bit of mental and emotional protection for the participants because they can distance themselves from what they write by framing the writing as for the researchers, and not really about or for themselves. Youth who begin blogging for themselves will likely pour out their hearts in more vulnerable ways and take negative comments more personally.

A more nitpicky critique is that the assessment of kids social distress was taken from reading the blogs. I think a better way for this would be to interview or test the kids themselves.

I am just more cautious about what can be done to information we share online than others. Youth are much more comfortable sharing with a large, unknown audience than I would have them be. Time will tell if I’m the conservative fuddy-duddy or if I’m right and we had better be more caution who we share our innermost secrets with.

Link to the APA article.

Link to the research paper.

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Sh***y Parents Anonymous

So I about fell out of my chair laughing at Drew Magary’s post over at Deadspin. He accounts attending his first class of the Parent Encouragement Program, which he called Sh***y Parents Anonymous. The advice he recounts is mostly right on, following the Democratic Parenting style of including your kids in the decisions that affect their lives. What got me was his humor, especially when he makes fun of himself. I’ll warn you now, his humor is crude and full of swear words, as if you couldn’t tell from this post’s title. That said, parenting has to be fun because you have to do so much of it, and Magary made me laugh.

Of the various items in Magary’s list, the two I tackle the most with parents are avoiding power struggles and controlling yourself since that is the only person you can control.

Please avoid power struggles. If you are struggling for power with a kid when you own the house, you buy the groceries, you control the car, you pay the phone bill and you provide the allowance, then you have brought your child up to your pay grade, or more likely, you have demoted yourself. The best way to avoid a power struggle–control yourself.

Which parent sounds more in control to you?

  • You can’t have any dessert until you finish your dinner!
  • I provide dinner to children who finish their dinner.

Have a friend throw a couple of “You can’t,” “You must,” “Don’t you ever”‘s your way and see if it doesn’t just pull you into saying something sassy back. Hearing a “You…” is hearing someone tell you what to do. Most of us do not like to be told what to do and we push back. Kids are supposed to grow more independent–it is their job–, and so they are primed to let you have it if you start telling, even demanding, that they do something. That is were the magic is in the second example.

When you say what you are going to do, you are controlling yourself and yourself only. You have provided little invitation to argue, though there might be one to whine. You may provide the same type of answer, such as, “I am only able to hear requests for dessert when asked in a big girl voice.”

So here is the link to the SPA post: 9 Things I learned in the Parent Encounter Program.

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How to Change Facebook Notification Settings

One of my favorite techie sites, Lifehacker, made a short video showing how to update your Facebook notification settings. Use these settings to limit the torrent of email you receive from your Facebook friends. Link to video.

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My return to blogging

I haven’t posted to my blog in a while. My time went mostly to the move. This is my second short move in my life, this time I moved only across the hallway. Last time, in my graduate school days, I moved across the street from one apartment to another. Neither move was easy, even though I thought lugging my stuff across such short distances would actually make it easier. Not so, it only fooled me into thinking it would be easier.

So the new address is 1600 S. Main St., Suite 225, Walnut Creek CA  94596. Only the suite number has changed.

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Facebook trains you to divulge

Facebook, “…lavishes you with attention from the people that you love the more you disclose about your life,” says Cory Doctorow in a Ted talk.The disconnect between disclosure and negative consequences (in time or because you never find out) frustrates adults trying to warn kids about the dangers of saying too much on Facebook or any other internet application. (It makes it hard to caution about the dangers of smoking and poor diet too.)

Like me, Cory is unimpressed with the available monitoring programs for watching your children. We both believe they don’t work that well; it is too easy for kids to get around. He goes in another direction as well; it teaches kids that surveillance by authority figures is okay. In fact, he goes on, any of the tools that we would like our kids to have in order to protect themselves (encryption, proxy servers, cleaning out cookies) defeats not only those who want to steal our childrens’ information, it also defeats the parental monitoring and control programs.

As a start, he would like us to promote privacy and educate our children so that the default question is, “Why do you need to know that?”

via BoingBoing

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