'Pokemon GO' Is Bringing Me Closer To My Autistic Son

It has given my husband and I a new way to reconnect with our son.
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Ryan with a Minecraft birthday present.
Tara Glenn
Ryan with a Minecraft birthday present.

My son Ryan is pretty amazing. He loves Legos, building robots, and excels in all things Math and Science related. He’s also high-functioning Autistic, or what we used to call Asperger’s Syndrome until it was removed from the psychiatrists’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders.

His diagnosis came as no surprise. Ryan has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Instead of seeking ways to “fix” him, we have always tried to give him the tools he will need to be successful in life and to help him overcome the things he had difficulty with – communicating with others, and subjects in school like spelling and reading, to name a few.

We continue to advocate every school year for recess time for his class. We also ask his teachers to send his make-up work home instead of making it up during recess or gym class, and to give him make-up tests during classes like Computers. We do this because the time to freely play and to run helps him relieve built up stress and frustrations from the school day, which in turn will help him focus during the rest of his classes.

“Ryan just isn’t always into the things I want to do. And then Pokemon GO happened, and it changed everything.”

We have always felt that it was important for him to embrace the things that made him different, but unfortunately, some of these differences made it harder for us to feel connected to us. In recent years, we’ve even drifted apart because as he gets older, our interests grow farther apart. Ryan has never been shy about showing his discontentment for activities that he doesn’t care for, and while I love reading, art, and traveling and Ryan just isn’t always into the things I want to do.

And then Pokemon GO happened, and it changed everything.

I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Pokemon GO, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. I figured it would be another stupid Pokemon game. I still have zero interest in the show, the cards, or collecting any of the merchandise.

But, I’m a good mom, and he begged me to download the app and even promised to keep his room clean, so I caved and downloaded it onto my phone after seeing a screenshot from my friend using the app with her surroundings shown in the app. And then the next thing I know, he’s wanting to do all the things with me – store runs, trips to the post office, and he’s even willing to go to the end of the road and get the mail for me every day because there are two Poke Stops along the way.

Suddenly, our whole family was playing together. We now go on long walks together so we can hatch our eggs, and I like to swing by the gym so that Ryan can help me take it over, since I’m pretty horrible at battling my Pokemon. We also go out into our community together searching for Poke Stops so we can grab free stuff, and even meet new players that are enjoying the game too.

Poke Stops are frequently landmarks, some of which are historical or have some type of significance in the community, so we’re learning a lot about where we live too, which is great because we’ve had problems in the past getting my son interested in doing things in the great outdoors with us. He does enjoy playing soccer and basketball, but other than that, we’re usually fighting with him to go outside and play. He would rather sit around and play video games or watch YouTube on his tablet, and he can’t simply sit around and play Pokemon GO because it doesn’t work that way.

“We have struggled at times to keep the lines of communication open with him, and now we’re having full-blown conversations with him.”

As a mom of a child with autism, I can honestly say that motivating my son to be more active and to play outside isn’t the only challenge we’ve had to overcome with him. We have struggled at times to keep the lines of communication open with him, and now we’re having full-blown conversations with him. Sure, they may start off about which Pokemon we caught that day or which ones are his favorites, but we have had some pretty awesome conversations about his future too.

On our Pokemon walks, I’ve learned that he thinks it would be pretty cool to build games like Pokemon for people to enjoy, that he loves drawing comics books, and he’s worried that he’s doing life wrong because at 10 years old he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Thanks to Pokemon GO, I was able to reassure him that it is totally normal to have no clue at the age of 10, as he was comparing himself to his older brother that has always known that he wants to be a pilot.

Another challenge that we had with my son is that most of the time, he just wanted to be left alone to do his own thing. It was easier for him to play with his toys in his room and be in his own little world than it was to hang out with us or go out into our neighborhood and make friends or play with existing ones.

Once the app launched, he was more willing to hang out with us, and he was also heading over to his friends’ houses more often to compare Pokemon and to strategize with them on how to get the ones on their wish lists. You’ll often see them together in the neighborhood, walking with their parent’s borrowed phones so that they can go battle at the gym or hang out at the Poke Stop until the phone dies.

In all, Pokemon GO has saved our sanity by giving us something cool to do from almost anywhere – including places that we typically dread going with kids like the grocery store or even worse, the auto repair shop. It has also given us something new to talk about, a new way to strike up conversation with new people, and a new way to be active together as a family.

But best of all, it has given my husband and I a new way to reconnect with the son that we felt disconnected from and show him that we are willing to meet him halfway by giving the games and activities he’s interested in a fair shot, especially since I personally didn’t care for Pokemon to begin with.

Facts About Autism