How Role-Playing Games (and Our Programs) Help Neurodiverse and Autism Spectrum Individuals

Improving Functioning and Quality of Life Through RPG Therapeutics

Administrator

Question: How do role-playing games in general help neurodiverse individuals on the Autism spectrum?

Role-playing games have been found to effective in helping improve a wide range of functioning for a variety of populations, including Autism Spectrum. 

For populations needing to learn and improve appropriate social skills, cooperative play, reading, writing, basic math, creative visualization, verbal understanding and expression, and coordinated group simple-to-complex problem solving, behavior self-regulation, self-confidence through self-efficacy, and resilience, the therapeutic application of tabletop role-playing gaming is an ideal modality for many inherent benefits. Adding our additional multidisciplinary methodologies to these modalities further enhances the benefits of these activities.

Our "general observations of ASD/PDD [Autism Spectrum Disorder/Pervasive Developmental Disorder] populations, when participating in well-run TRPG (Tabletop Role Playing Games)... generally leads to reduction of stereotyped behaviors such as fixations, distractions, hand-flapping (stimming), isolation, lack of response/interaction to/with others & improvements in social interaction, cooperative play, communication, and self-confidence.”

I have written and spoken at length on this topic. Here are just a couple of examples that you may find useful as an introduction to these topics:


Here is summary short list of the benefits found from applied role-playing game therapy participation as an intervention modality:

  • Enhancing the learning process

  • Empathy

  • Cooperation

  • Camaraderie

  • Social Skills Development

  • Social Phobias

  • Quality of Life

  • Math, reading, creative writing, and inspiration for many other ancillary skills and interests development (history, philosophy, science, etc.)

  • Immersion and Flow State

  • Aggression, Impulse Control, Turn-taking, Behavior Self-management

  • Scaffolding, Modeling, Zone of Proximal Development

  • Small group formation, communication, and dynamics awareness

  • Conflict resolution skills development

  • Frustration tolerance

  • Failure tolerance and resilience growth

  • Help build meta-cognition

  • Fail states that reflect the consequences of maladaptive behaviors

  • Encourage lateral thinking

  • Can be modeled after almost any situation


Breaking this into categories and subcategories, some key benefits found are:

Social

  • Cooperation with diverse people/cultures/backgrounds

  • Leadership

  • Walking in others shoes/experiences

  • Exposure to other cultures, religions, histories, belief systems, etc.

  • Languages/Linguistics

  • Multicultural mythologies

  • Learning/following the rules but also “thinking outside of the box when needed”


Intellectual

  • Mathematics

  • Statistics

  • Researching

  • Problem solving (e.g. puzzles, riddles, mazes, etc.)

  • Reading/writing (technical)

  • History

  • Geography

  • Cartography

  • Geology

  • Economics

  • Government systems

  • Politics

  • Ecology

  • Metallurgy

  • Meteorology

  • Astronomy

  • Physics

  • Demographics

  • Warfare tactics and strategies

  • Technologies past and present

  • Architecture


Creative

  • Theatrics/acting

  • Improvisation

  • Reading/writing (creative)

  • Artwork (drawing, painting lead figures, etc.)

  • Music

  • Poetry



Applicable Theories

There are many theories relevant to trying to explain the data that indicates the efficacy of RPG-based interventions. The data is the "What" for the effects of RPGs, the theories attempt to explain the "Why". There are many theories from many disciplines, but a few key multi-disciplinary theories strongly relevant to RPGs include:

Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Change, Therapeutic Recreation and Role-Playing Games

Immersion, Flow, & Role-Playing Games - Video

Avedon Interaction Patterns Summary relevant to RPGs

RPGs and Bleed Theories:

A rough page with a lengthy list of relevant theories and terminology (a rough work in progress): https://w3.rpgresearch.com/Members/hawke/recent-rpg-theory-related-discussions-lectures-at-rpg-research



Examples of community and group programs using role-playing games for ASD populations



Question: Has any scientific research been done on the efficacy of RPGs  for ASD?

The RPG Research archives  list all known research on the effects of role-playing games. When the website archives went live in 2004 there were only about 50 research studies. By 2016 there were around 3,000 content items on the effects of RPGs. As of 2021 RPG Research founder's Hawke Robinson has an archive with over 10,000 content items! The challenge has been keeping up with this massive increase in studies, and there is now a dedicate research archivists team migrating all of the content to a new platform. Until this migration is complete, here are two of the older archives you can consult for general research information:

Research by Japanese researcher Kohei Kato demonstrates that leisure activity involving TRPG has the potential to enhance functioning and Quality of Life (QOL) (in particular, ʻemotional well-beingʼ and ʻfriendsʼ ) and relationships with peers in teenagers with ASD. 

There is still a significant need for more intensive, larger-scale, and longitudinal studies. See the "References" section at the bottom of this page for links to far more research references. Our non-profit sister-company RPG Research has been a leading innovator in this endeavor to grow the body of knowledge on these topics.



Question: What is distinctive about RPG Therapeutics's approach to using RPGs?

First, we have been studying the effects of role-playing games, and using them to achieve targeted goals longer than anyone else. Our founder began participating in RPGs in 1977 researching their effects since 1983, using them inside schools for education and around educational settings and goals since 1985, working with high-risk and incarcerated populations since 1989, and broader mental health and therapeutic applications since 2004.

A more robust answer would do more justice to the extensive results we have found over the decades, but the short version is that with proper assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation, using our effective programs plans, observers will note significant reduction in the manifestation of  "stereotypical behaviors" during the activities using Role-playing Game formulae, and with each passing session generalization of benefits into daily life.

Research and evidence in practice shows that compared to those programs that incorporate RPG-based activities, especially those RPG programs incorporating our enhancements, deliver better positive experiences with cooperative engagement, better success rates at completing tasks cooperatively, improved efforts at communication with others. Even more significant we have found that after initial experiences with our programs, participants are much more likely to seek out opportunities for further engagement in these types of activities, which is a key part of the efficacy of our programs, we tap into this intrinsic self-motivation approach which improves the likelihood that they will engage in social tasks due to the enjoyment aspects of the Role-playing Game experience, despite the extra effort that some ASD participants experience when trying to work in a cooperatively social environment. This leads to ongoing lifelong benefits that continue to grow and improve long after our treatment intervention sessions have completed.

Some key aspects of our programs include:

  • Baseline assessments and periodic evaluations showing measurable results

  • Multidisciplinary methodologies integration to significantly enhance the effects and long-term benefits of these modalities.

  • Improved frustration tolerance, resilience, and development of "grit"

  • Encourage perspective taking

  • Creative problem solving with groups 

  • Generalization of social skills into daily living

  • Promote flexible thinking 

  • Increased empathy

  • Customized transitional programs (as needed) for ongoing community connections and lifelong benefits

  • Immediate decrease in inappropriate social interaction behavior

  • Increase in appropriate social initiations

  • Progressive increase in hand raising / turn-taking

  • Reduction of inappropriate vocalizations

  • Positive behavior changes maintained over time

  • Reduction in anxiety and depression, including social phobias and PTSD


What is the relationship between RPG Research and RPG Therapeutics LLC / RPG.LLC?

Most of the links provided are on the RPG Research website, what is the relationship between RPG Research and RPG Therapeutics LLC / RPG.LLC?

Hawke Robinson is president and founder of both companies.

RPG Research is a 501(c)3 non-profit research and human services 100% volunteer-run international organization with more than 170 volunteers around the world studying the effects of all role-playing game formats and providing community programs using RPGs to help local communities around the world and share the world's largest free and open research repository on the effects of role-playing games.

RPG Therapeutics LLC / RPG.LLC is a for-profit company. Originally started as Hawke Robinson's private practice as a Recreational Therapist, the company has grown and now includes half a dozen employees (as of July 2021) providing professional recreational, entertainment, professional training workshops, and therapeutic services.

Both tabletop and live-action show significant benefits immediately and with only some modification necessary depending on the severity of symptoms, as long as certain controls are implemented (Balances), while computer-based needs significantly more intervention to maintain balance, but can be achieved if implemented correctly.


Amalgamation of media and discussion on these topics

 https://w3.rpgresearch.com/about/media/previous-amalgamation


References