Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Is Pokémon Go lighting the way for a new wave of physical activity in people with autism?

People of all abilities experience barriers to physical activity throughout their lifetime but barriers may be more pronounced for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Rigid adherences to routine and sensory sensitivities are just some of the symptoms commonly associated with ASD that can reduce motivation to engage in physical activities. However, I recently conducted a systematic review, which found that there are also a number of facilitators of physical activity for people with ASD, one of which provides a unique perspective on the Pokémon Go phenomenon.

The literature explored in my systematic review revealed that children with ASD have a preference for technology-based activities. Children also expressed more excitement for physical activities that involved their favourite fictional characters than typical physical activities. This suggests that media technologies that combine movement and exercise with pop culture interests can encourage many of those with ASD to take up a form of physical activity. One device that aptly demonstrates this theory in action is Pokémon Go, which encourages players to walk distances in order to catch creatures through their mobile phones. One of the successful aspects of Pokémon Go is that it is not a game specifically designed for people with mental health conditions. It is a universal game, targeted at both children and adults. Perhaps if the game were only targeted at people with ASD, they would be less inclined to use it. Instead, Pokémon Go took the world by storm and it just so happened to meet the needs of a physical activity facilitator for ASD individuals.

When people think of technology-based activities, they tend to think of sedentary activities that involve sitting down in front of a screen and not moving all that much for hours on end. In many circumstances, this is still an accurate reflection of the type of behaviour that technology can facilitate, especially in people with ASD. Pokémon Go has shown that technology does not always have to be like this. It can be a way of connecting with people that do not take to traditional health intervention and promotion strategies.

It will be interesting to see if more media technologies follow in the footsteps of Pokémon Go. There are hundreds of television shows and films and comics and video games that are ripe for the Pokémon Go treatment. There is unlimited potential in how far this can be taken but there is no evidence yet on the long-term implications of these types of technologies on physical activity levels. What happens when the players get bored? What happens when you have to start paying to keep on playing? These questions are unlikely to be answered in the near future but what is clear right now is the appeal of technologies, like Pokémon Go, to people with ASD.

Written by Liam Robson

1 comment:

  1. Hello!
    I think it's very important topic, I'm very interested in what did you write.
    I think today there are still many questions, but I hope they'll give a complete answers in the near feature :)