Pokemon GO is a popular free augmented reality app for iPhones and Android (including Samsung) devices. To play it you need to leave your house to hunt for Pokemon in your neighbourhood.
The game is enormously popular and one surprising benefit has come to many people with Autism who are also experiencing severe anxiety when outdoors.
A recent video on the BBC tells a touching story of a mum and her 17-year old son who are in the park looking for Pokemon together. Mum explains how previously he would rarely leave the house and for the first time she feels that she is a mum again – not just a carer. It’s helping to develop a new level of mother and son bond.
Another mum tells her story of her 10-year old. She describes the transformation as various locations go from being associated with fear and anxiety to becoming “potential Pokemon catching spots.” In this story she describes how during a trip to the beach (a previous no-no due to the sensory overload), seeing her son driven by Pokemon stepped into the water for the first time, screaming (hopefully!) in delight. It’s helping some autistic children improve their social flexibility and behaviour outdoors, making family outings more enjoyable for everyone.
The National Autistic Story has acknowledged the success of the game, explaining that they have received a number of correspondences from people singing its praises. They have cases where people have spoken to strangers about Pokemon GO when outdoors. These social opportunities are rare for many people with Autism – and the benefits are significant. The National Autistic Society also advise some caution regarding safety of those individuals who spend little time outdoors (particularly avoiding wandering into roads) and remind people that Autism is a varied spectrum and there is no ‘cure’ that works for everyone. Not every individual will enjoy playing Pokemon GO, let alone benefit from the extraordinary new opportunities that some individuals are describing.