Videogame (Over)Use in Children and Adolescents with Autism: Exploring Parental Concerns, Attitudes, and Mediation Strategies

Oral Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 2:09 PM
Willem Burger Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. S. De Pauw1, J. Van Brabandt1, L. Tiberghien1, L. De Clercq1 and L. M. Dieleman2, (1)Department of Special Needs Education, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, (2)Department of Developmental, Personality, and Social Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Playing videogames is one of the most favourite leisure activities for many children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Their parents, however, frequently have mixed feelings about these screen-based activities and their children’s level of engagement with it. On the one hand, accumulating studies suggest that youth with ASD is at significantly greater risk of problematic use of videogames, compared to peers without ASD or with other disabilities. On the other hand, many parents also endorse that videogames serve a significant number of emotional, social, and intellectual needs of their child with ASD.


Given the parents’ pivotal role in accommodating their child’s leisure behaviours, this study aims to better understand (1) videogame (over)use in Flemish youth with ASD, (2) the concerns and attitudes of parents about this videogame (over)use, and (3) the mediation parenting strategies that parents adopt to manage their children’s screen-based activities.


Parents of 244 children and adolescents with ASD (Mage child= 12.03, 7-17 year olds) completed a comprehensive online survey. In the first part, parents reported on the frequency, duration, game characteristics and child preferences, and measures evaluating both the negative (Problem Videogame Playing Test, PVGT; obsessive passion; concern about gaming; negative evaluation of life domains, ill-being) and positive (harmonious passion; positive evaluation of life domains; social engagement; well-being) impact of videogame use. In the second part, parents reported on their use of active, restrictive or social strategies in parental game mediation, and on the extent these mediations are exerted in an autonomy-supportive or controlling manner. Parents also evaluated their own attitudes and concerns about the videogaming of their child, in addition to dimensional ASD-symptoms of the child (Social Responsiveness Scale).


In line with international estimates, Flemish youth with ASD spent an average of 2.45 hours/day playing videogames. However, Flemish parents reported significantly higher PVGT-scores on their children (M=56.6) than similar research in the U.S. (M=41.2; Mazurek & Engelhardt, 2013; d=1.2). Gender (boys) and a preference for the most popular genres (adventure, action, and violence) were associated with more negative outcomes. The quality of passion for gaming, however, yielded two separate patterns: a problematic, obsessive passion-pattern (with excessive PVGT-scores, more ill-being, parental concerns and negative attitude towards gaming) versus a non-problematic, harmonious passion-pattern (more hours/day, but not related to ill-being, parental concerns or negative outcomes). Surprisingly, no associations between gaming and positive outcomes were found.

Parents of younger children exerted more social, active and restrictive mediation than parents of older children. Notably, we did not find associations between parental concerns or negative perceptions and restrictive or controlling mediation strategies. Social mediation (i.e., playing together), however, turned out to be significant ‘buffering’ factor for negative gaming outcomes. Moreover, an autonomy-supportive style fostered harmonious passion for gaming.


This study demonstrates the importance of distinguishing obsessive versus harmonious passion for gaming in youth with ASD. It also gives practical tools, suggesting that playing together (i.e., social mediation) and an autonomy-supportive parental style may protect children with ASD from the negative outcomes of excessive gaming.