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Introduction To The Gamification Of Autism. A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

Introduction To The Gamification Of Autism. A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.Introduction To The Gamification Of Autism. A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

If you go onto any app store, autism support group or anywhere to be honest and search for games or items designed to help autistic people, then you will find some type of serious game. Since the gamification of autism is becoming more and more popular and even more apps, games and toys are being developed to help autistic people. There are tons of apps and other examples of serious games designed to teach autistic people social skills, life skills and other important skills that they sometimes lack due to their condition. Yet the gamification of autism raises a critical question that needs to be answered. How effective actually are these games? That’s the focus of today’s psychology podcast episode and if you enjoy learning about mental health, autism and neurodivergence. Then you’re in for a treat!

Today’s clinical psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Gamification Of Autism: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Cyberpsychology and Psychotherapy. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at 

Introduction To The Gamification Of Autism (Extract From Gamification of Autism. COPYRIGHT 2023 CONNOR WHITELEY)

Moving onto the first chapter of the book, we need to understand the topic at a general level, because if you’re anything like me before I really started investigating this topic, then you might not know a few things.

Since I have always loved autism research, finding out more about it and trying to help people, but that seriously does not mean I knew anything about gamification.

And what I tend to find when I talk to someone about what I did on my placement year and that I did a literature review on the topic, I found some people knew what gamification meant as a definition. But beyond that, they were clueless to how this was used in autism effectively.

As a result, in this chapter, we’re going to talk about what are interventions, gamification and autism to make sure everyone is on the exact same page for the rest of the book.

That’s what we’re going to look at now.

Therefore, using technology and combining it with psychological interventions is not new, because it is only increasing given how technology can be used to motivate and engage users (Gaudi et al., 2019). And I feel that we are definitely at the point where our technology is good enough that it can definitely be used on a whole range of conditions thankfully.

Some examples of technology that can be used in interventions include, serious games (more on that later on), structured-oriented videogames designed for learning as well as therapy in a fun environment (Alvarez Reyes et al., 2019), and game-based interventions.

Again, we will talk a lot on how these different pieces of technology and games are used in clinical interventions of autism but the most important thing about all of them is that by using technology to encourage motivation and learning (Mairena et al., 2019), we are able to overcome some massive limitations of more “traditional” psychotherapy. For example, we are aware that an autistic person cannot sit down for very long and they lose interest very quickly. This makes it very, very difficult to get them to engage with an hour-long therapy session, so technology can be helpful in this task.

Nonetheless, I certainly think one of the most interesting and possibly exciting things to note here is that this combination of technology and intervention is basically a brand-new frontier that still needs to be explored in great detail.

For example, we need the technologically aided interventions to be created in the first place so that would definitely be exciting for developers, but we also need to test it on autistic children (again that’s another exciting area). Yet we need to empirically test these technologically aided interventions too and that’s the point of this book.

I want to show you the current research and state of this area and hopefully inspire some of you to help improve it for the future generations.

What Are Interventions?

In the rest of the book, we’re going to see the term interventions an awful lot, and normally in my books, this refers to different types and forms of psychotherapy. Yet in this book, the term interventions is going to be used as a sort of umbrella term to talk about all the different examples of serious games and gamification.

As well as all the serious games and examples of gamification mentioned in the book have been widely used to emotionally and socially train children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs; Boucenna et al., 2014; Grossard et al., 2017; Malinverni et al., 2017).

Additionally, before I start giving you a definition and talk more about autism. I want to outright say that I don’t like the term Disorder for any psychological condition, even more so for autism, and this is very much biomedical model thinking. Since this model sees autism as a pathology that needs to be “cured” but that’s rubbish.

But I’ve already written that argument in different places so I will be leaving it out of this book.

What Is Autism?

Furthermore, Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) refers to a wide range of neurodevelopmental conditions that can be characterised by repetitive behaviours, impaired social skills, and intense interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Moreover, the main reason why autism is of interest to the gamification literature is because with the autism population increasing (Fang et al., 2019), mental health services are of course looking for cheaper alternatives to the traditional Early Years Interventions. Some of these common interventions include Dance/ Movement therapy (Scharoun et al., 2014), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Perihan et al., 2021) and psychopharmacological interventions (Accordino et al., 2016).

But the autistic community is increasingly becoming interested in interventions that use games and technology. For instance, games are increasingly being used in school environments within recent years (Whyte et al., 2015).

One of the reasons for this is because autistic children have been deemed to view virtual environments as more predictable than non-virtual environments, so they are more likely to last in virtual environments for longer (Mitchell et al., 2007).

Personally, I’m not exactly sure I like the phase children have been deemed because I think it sounds a little cold and uncaring towards children, but that’s what academia is like at times. As well as these virtual environment examples is a good one to show how using technology can help autistic people cope better when they might not be able to do as well in physical or real-world environments.

This is something else we’ll explore later.

As a result of this increased interest, a lot more ASC interventions are starting to adopt and become comprised of digital interventions. Allowing people with autism to improve their symbolic play, communication as well as social skills.

In addition, what I think is very good about all of this is that having digital components of interventions isn’t hard to achieve, and this can be very seamless considering that high video game use is often reported in ASCs (Coutelle et al., 2021).

The Problem We’ll Learn About

However, I will be the first to admit, as great as all this understanding is about what serious games are, gamification is and what autism is, there is a major, major problem with this area of research.

This problem is actually so problematic that it is actually one of the first things that interested me in the topic when my supervisor suggested it.

And this is the problem that the evidence base for the effectiveness of serious games and similar interventions is very limited, as well as there are even some studies and researchers that question the very need for specific games in the first place (Alkhayat & Ibrahim, 2020).

Although, I will note upfront here that even though I am mentioning these studies. Of course, I am the very, very last person who would ever deny that autistic people do face challenges and difficulties in the world. Hell, if I was denying that I wouldn’t be writing this book or done podcast episodes on autism.

Yet I am highlighting that there is evidence serious games aren’t needed considering the effectiveness of non-specialised games, but that’s something we might explore later on.

Anyway, the major problem with the gamification literature is that many of these studies are mere proof of concept tests that are comprised of small, inadequate samples and believe me, they seriously lack ecological validity.

This is rather alarming in my opinion because when we consider the increased interest in the development of gamification of the ASC community, it’s important that we examine the area to see how empirical it is by looking to understand the field’s current weaknesses and areas of potential improvement.

And oh yes, there are some serious areas for improvement and that is why this is such a great topic to explore.


I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Gamification Of Autism: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Cyberpsychology and Psychotherapy. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at 

Have a great day.

Clinical Psychology References

Accordino, R. E., Kidd, C., Politte, L. C., Henry, C. A., & McDougle, C. J. (2016). Psychopharmacological interventions in autism spectrum disorder. Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy, 17(7), 937-952.

Alkhayat, L. S., & Ibrahim, M. (2020). Assessing the effect of playing games on the behavior of ASD and TD children. Advances in Autism.

Alvarez Reyes, G., Espinoza Tixi, V., Avila-Pesantez, D., Vaca-Cardenas, L., & Miriam Avila, L. (2019, March). Towards an Improvement of Interpersonal Relationships in Children with Autism Using a Serious Game. In The International Conference on Advances in Emerging Trends and Technologies (pp. 315-325). Springer, Cham.

American Psychiatric Association. 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition). American Psychiatric Publishing: Arlington.

Boucenna, S., Narzisi, A., Tilmont, E., Muratori, F., Pioggia, G., Cohen, D., & Chetouani, M. (2014). Interactive technologies for autistic children: A review. Cognitive Computation, 6(4), 722-740.

Coutelle, R., Weiner, L., Paasche, C., Pottelette, J., Bertschy, G., Schröder, C. M., & Lalanne, L. (2021). Autism Spectrum Disorder and Video Games: Restricted Interests or Addiction?. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-22.

Fang, Q., Aiken, C. A., Fang, C., & Pan, Z. (2019). Effects of exergaming on physical and cognitive functions in individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Games for health journal, 8(2), 74-84.

Gaudi, G., Kapralos, B., Uribe-Quevedo, A., Hall, G., & Parvinchi, D. (2019, October). Autism Serious Game Framework (ASGF) for Developing Games for Children with Autism. In Interactive Mobile Communication, Technologies and Learning (pp. 3-12). Springer, Cham.

Grossard, C., Grynspan, O., Serret, S., Jouen, A. L., Bailly, K., & Cohen, D. (2017). Serious games to teach social interactions and emotions to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Computers & Education, 113, 195-211.

Mairena, M. Á., Mora-Guiard, J., Malinverni, L., Padillo, V., Valero, L., Hervás, A., & Pares, N. (2019). A full-body interactive videogame used as a tool to foster social initiation conducts in children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 67, 101438.

Malinverni, L., Mora-Guiard, J., Padillo, V., Valero, L., Hervás, A., & Pares, N. (2017). An inclusive design approach for developing video games for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 535-549.

Mitchell, P., Parsons, S., & Leonard, A. (2007). Using virtual environments for teaching social understanding to 6 adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 37(3), 589-600.

Perihan, C., Burke, M. D., Bowman-Perrott, L., & Gallup, J. (2021). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and ASD. Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1028-1032.

Scharoun, S. M., Reinders, N. J., Bryden, P. J., & Fletcher, P. C. (2014). Dance/movement therapy as an intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 36(2), 209-228.

Whyte, E. M., Smyth, J. M., & Scherf, K. S. (2015). Designing serious game interventions for individuals with autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(12), 3820-3831.


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