It is How You Play the Game

Remember the old saying, that the ends justify the means? Well that tends to resonate a lot with parents of children on the autism spectrum. Have you ever played a board game, a card game, or video game with someone who has an ASD? If you have you will never forget it. It’s like walking into the locker room of one of the two opposing football teams during halftime at the Super Bowl. The coach is dressing down the players for not doing well enough and the other coach is trying to keep the momentum going. It’s a manic filled pile-on of win win win. Only when your child resorts to this all encompassing winner takes all philosophy during what is supposed to be a fun time, it then becomes anything but fun. It becomes life or death to them. The need to win so overshadows the point of the game and the activity that you are trying to arrange that you begin to question whether the game is worth it.

Let me answer that for you. Yes it is. It is worth it and in fact it is very important. I have no idea why the need to win is so overwhelming to person’s with asperger’s or pdd. I do know that from a very young age collegeman had to always win. In a way it is why he does well in school. He knows to accomplish his goals in life, which are to help others and alternatively be financially secure, he needs to start off by producing in school. So he works very hard at his grades. But when they are little and it manifests itself in a game of Candy Land or a trip to the bowling alley, it is anything but cute, fun or enjoyable.

This is more than not taking turns. This is an all consuming need to be the best. Granted in many respects that is not bad, but they need to understand how the game is played. How the rules are set. How the interactions between the players are the part that is most important. If we can teach our children that it is how you play the game, not whether you win or lose then I think we will have accomplished a major task. Yes, it is a major social skills issue, and one of great importance with lifelong consequences. Of course, in our over competitive society, type A personality world, that does become a very hard thing to get across. But, in many respects, I also don’t think that this is an issue that only parents of children with autism face. Winning at any price seems to be a societal syndrome.

Cheating is replete in our schools. That is why cell phones are banned in most tests. Laptops have to be specially configured for state and national tests. Term papers have to be sent to websites that review them for plagiarism. It is a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, one that may co-opt our children very easily if we do not nip its inception in the proverbial bud. Winning at any cost is not acceptable. It is a lesson they need to learn, and learn fast. OK, so now what?  How do you teach that?

What we have done is taught truth above all else. You do your own work. You watch what and how you write your papers so there is no hint of plagiarism. There are rights and there are wrongs in this life. Some things really are black and white with no hint at all of gray. These rules have carried the boys so far. They are honest to a fault.  Like I have said in earlier posts, it’s why no one ever had a problem with them rescheduling tests ever, even in college. Those that know them know for a fact, that they would never never cheat. Sometimes an anal adherence to rules can come in handy for our children too.

I can honestly say, however, that trying to teach enjoyment and noncompetativeness in a gaming situation is an ongoing endeavor in our household. Collegeman still needs to win and gets very frustrated when he doesn’t. He is that way with his video games. He gets very anxious and over wrought when things don’t go well. We have to make him put the game away and “chill out” when he gets like that. Luckily it happens less and less with time, but it is something we have to be aware of. Whether it’s tied into his OCD or not, I am not sure. Highschoolboy doesn’t have that issue and he has OCD as well. As I have said many times, same disability, different manifestations.

We practiced when collegeman was younger how to follow the rules of the game. How to take turns. How to include others. They worked with him on this issue throughout elementary and middle school. They still do that at his adult social skills group. When they go bowling, they had to lecture all of the young men about sportsmanship. When they play board games at the group they have to keep an eye on collegeman so he doesn’t get annoyed that the other guys get too silly and don’t want to play right. Without the rules he can’t win.  

I heard an interesting story about Thomas Edison. In a biography of his life, his second wife recounts how their children wouldn’t play cards with him because he would always change the rules so he could win. He also studiously avoided her dinner parties preferring to lock himself away in his lab instead of interacting with company. Many say Edison had aspie traits. If you watch the biography you can go down the checklist and say, yes, yes, yes. Granted he didn’t do so bad in life, but other scientists around him didn’t fare as well as him. His colleague Enrico Ferme was one who was unacknowledged for his accomplishments in his lifetime, also someone who  was replete with aspie traits. Does it come down to love and support? I think in many cases it does. It’s really very simple. But I think it’s what any human being needs to be successful. We all need those who believe in us and we all need love.

So as collegeman goes to his next bowling match, scrabble or card game, we will remind him that it is not whether you win, but how many people you befriend on the way. It is definitely how you play the game. Winning isn’t everything if you are left alone to play solitaire your entire life.


Until next time,




About Elise "Ronan"

#JeSuisJuif #RenegadeJew... Life-hacks, book reviews, essayist...
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6 Responses to It is How You Play the Game

  1. J. says:

    My guys have those issues as well. It goes against the grain for them to even let a 3 year old win. There are days I would love to throw all videogames in the woodstove. But we keep trying, refining coping strategies, setting oven timers… And so it goes.

  2. Trish says:

    Definitely agree – we are big game players here and my high school girl still occasionally struggles with needing to be the winner, but this is nothing in comparison to how she dealt with it when she was a younger child. Back then, it wouldn\’t be beyond her to turn the game over and stomp off in an angry huff about how unfair the world was, simply because someone else won Candy Land. Lately she is fine with interactive games, but still falls apart if she is not successful in a video game adventure. My college man was never as narrowly focused on winning – his enthusiasm for games has ushered in the social success he is feeling in college – his circle of friends are all gamers who are content to spend hours playing card games or weeks playing D&D. While he enjoys video games and online MMORPG, these don\’t consume his life in the way they did during high school years. He has learned that interacting with friends or family members can lead to a more satisfying experience for him (talking, laughing together) than hours of visual stimulation. To this I do say, Glory Hallelujah! 🙂

  3. Elise says:

    Thank you both for your input. This is such an issue across the board for those with autism spectrum disorders, but it really seems like noone ever talks about it. I think in many ways this skill is so much more important than even learning how to use small talk-if you had to choose one skill over the other. I am hoping for our Glory Hallelujah moment for collegeman eventually. I think its on its way, slowly but surely. HSB used to use games to interact with his former firend, but now does enjoy going out with the bowling team and there is no competition there for him, he knows he\’s the worst bowler and he doesn\’t care- Likes to go with the team anyway. YEAH.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Thanks, Elise, for sending me this post. I needed it! Our son yells and screams at the game. I tell him I hope he\’s not screaming into the mike, he says he turns it off so they can\’t hear it (thank God for that!). I hear him frequently saying, "But I wanted to impress you guys," after he fails at doing something on the game, like he needs their constant approval and acceptance, I guess. Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

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