Designing gamified interventions for autism spectrum disorders

Serious games and gamified interventions are becoming increasingly popular with researchers and therapists dealing with autistic audiences. Every year, there is an increasing amount of research on autism technology aimed at supporting independence and improving academic performance. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-5, autism is characterized by a persistent reduction in social communication, restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, and communication deficits (verbal and non-verbal). As the diagnosis of autism has evolved to cover a wider spectrum of symptoms, evidence is emerging of an increase in epidemic rates. The numbers may vary depending on the metrics used to evaluate them, but studies are reporting up to 1 in 150 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Accessibility has played an important role in empowering autistic people to overcome their limitations by fostering independence and helping them socialize.

Serious games and gamification strategies are widely used to treat mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, substance use, dementia, and autism spectrum disorders. Gamification is a powerful source of participants’ motivation and commitment, thus fostering a teaching-learning process or training in specific situations. The design elements of serious games and/or gamification interfaces often include a storyline, medium to long-term goals, increasing difficulty, feedback and/or rewards, and ensuring a choice. Recent research suggests an improvement in managing symptoms associated with the disorder through the use of serious games or gamification interventions. 

The same is true for autism: gamification can be a potentially effective approach due to the high visual processing skills of people with ASD. On the other hand, developers may face challenges. There is little evidence that people with ASD who undergo computer intervention can apply such learning in real life.

Literature: 

Camargo, Murilo & Barros, Rodolfo & Brancher, Jacques & Barros, Vanessa & Silva, Matheus. (2019). Designing Gamified Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. 10.1007/978-3-030-34644-7_28.

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