Question: How do role-playing games in general help neurodiverse individuals on the Autism spectrum?
Role-playing games have been found to be effective in helping improve a wide range of functioning for pretty much everyone, as well as a variety of special populations, including Autism Spectrum.
For populations needing to learn and improve appropriate social skills, cooperative play, reading, vocabulary, 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.
Some organizations, like RPG Therapeutics LLC specialize in enhancing and maximizing these and other benefits through their intentional therapeutic application of tabletop role-playing gaming as an ideal modality for the many inherent benefits, and adding their additional multidisciplinary methodologies to these modalities that further enhance the benefits of these activities.
They state that in their research and evidence-in-practice that their "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.”
There are a number of papers, articles, videos, and interviews covering this topic at length. Here are just a couple of examples that you may find useful as an introduction to these topics:
- Role-Playing Games (RPG) as Intervention Modalities to Achieve Therapeutic & Educational Goals for Individuals and Groups from the Therapeutic Recreation Perspective.
- Paper, Presentation, and Video: Seattle Children's Hospital Presentation Video on Role-Playing Game Therapy Introduction from the Therapeutic Recreation Perspective
- Video: Wizards of the Coast Dragon Talk Show Discussion
- Article: Adolescents roll high on unique mental health-care options
Here is a summary short list of the benefits found from applied role-playing game participation:
- Enhancing the learning process
- 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:
- Cooperation with diverse people/cultures/backgrounds
- Walking in others shoes/experiences
- Exposure to other cultures, religions, histories, belief systems, etc.
- Multicultural mythologies
- Learning/following the rules but also “thinking outside of the box when needed”
- Problem solving (e.g. puzzles, riddles, mazes, etc.)
- Reading/writing (technical)
- Government systems
- Warfare tactics and strategies
- Technologies past and present
- Reading/writing (creative)
- Artwork (drawing, painting lead figures, etc.)
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:
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 role-playing game research studies repository archives list all known research on the effects of role-playing games. 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 role-playing game research archives contain more than 10,000 content items related to the effects of role-playing games!
Research by Japanese researcher Kohei Kato demonstrates that leisure activity involving tabletop role-playing games (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.
Question: What is distinctive about RPG Therapeutics's approach to using RPGs?
Firstly, RPG Therapeutics' Role-Playing Game Therapy founder, Hawke Robinson, has have been studying the effects of role-playing games, and using them to achieve targeted goals longer than anyone else. Introduced by professional peers and conferences as "The Grandfather of Therapeutic Gaming", he began participating in RPGs in 1977, researching optimizing the RPG experience since 1979, 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 that have been found over the decades. The abbreviated version, according to RPG Therapeutics LLC, is that "with proper assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation, using effective programs plans, observers will note significant reduction in the manifestation of maladaptive "stereotypical behaviors" during the activities using Role-playing Games and our intervention modality formulae, and with each passing session, broader generalization of these benefits will appear in their daily life".
RPG Therapeutics' 45+ years of research and evidence in practice for role-playing game therapy (RPG Therapy) 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, higher 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."
Both tabletop and live-action role-playing games 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.
Some key aspects of RPG Therapeutics LLC's RPG Therapy 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
- We provide controlled environments, where can adjust lighting, tactile, sounds, and more, including with wheelchair accessible mobile facilities to reduce irritants and distractions for those with a variety of sensory differences or challenges.
What is the relationship between RPG Research and RPG Therapeutics LLC / RPG.LLC?
Many 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. They are two completely separate organizations.
RPG Research is a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable research and human services 100% volunteer-run organization studying the effects of all role-playing game formats and providing community programs using RPGs to help local communities.
RPG Therapeutics LLC / RPG.LLC is a for-profit company. Hawke Robinson's path as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, aka Recreational Therapist began in 2004. RPG Therapeutics LLC grew as Hawke Robinson's private practice grew as a Recreational Therapist, incorporating as an LLC in 2014, the company has grown and now includes half a dozen employees (as of July 2021) providing professional, recreational, entertainment, educational, executive staff team development, professional training workshops and retreats, manuals and workbooks, and a wide range of therapeutic services.
Amalgamation of media and discussion on these topics
- An Overview History and Potential Therapeutic Value of Role Playing Gaming - https://www.academia.edu/3668918/An_Overview_History_and_Potential_Therapeutic_Value_of_Role_Playing_Gaming
- Role-playing Games Used as Educational and Therapeutic Tool for Youth and Adults - https://www.academia.edu/3668971/Role_playing_Games_Used_as_Educational_and_Therapeutic_Tool_for_Youth_and_Adults
- Using Role-Playing Games to Enhance the Learning Process, from the Cognitive Neuropsychology Perspective - https://www.academia.edu/35290673/Using_Role_Playing_Games_to_Enhance_the_Learning_Process_from_the_Cognitive_Neuropsychology_Perspective
- Role-Playing Games (RPG) as Intervention Modalitiesto Achieve Therapeutic & Educational Goalsor Individuals and Groupsrom the Therapeutic Recreation Perspective! - https://www.academia.edu/26946843/Role_Playing_Games_RPG_as_Intervention_Modalities_to_Achieve_Therapeutic_and_Educational_Goals_for_Individuals_and_Groups_from_the_Therapeutic_Recreation_Perspective_Paper_for_Living_Games_Pre_Conference_Texas_State_University_draft_before_peer_review_
- Serious Games as a Complementary Tool for Social Skill Development in Young People: A Systematic Review of the Literature - https://www.academia.edu/50222879/Serious_Games_as_a_Complementary_Tool_for_Social_Skill_Development_in_Young_People_A_Systematic_Review_of_the_Literature
- Danish School and LARP - Vice.Com - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/hbos-vice-documentary-article-mentions-hawke-robinson-rpg-research-denmark-larping-is-the-future-of-education
- Partial Short List of RPG Benefits - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/recent-discussion-partial-short-list-of-rpg-benefits
- Kohei, Kato - "Does the table top role-playing game activity enhance quality of life in children with autism spectrum disorder?" https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/others/kato_poster_autismeurope_201609.pdf/view
- Kohei Kat's Research Website - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/about/relevant-resources/websites/kohei-katos-research-website
- Social Stories and ASD - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/others-research/jaba-41-03-405.pdf/view
- LARP program for ASD Toddlers - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/creating-larp-program-for-autism-spectrum-toddlers
- Tabletop and LIve-Action RPG Program Overview for PAVE ASD Group - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/using-role-playing-games-for-autism-spectrum-participants
- Using RPGs to correct misbehaviour by Shaun Low (when reading this independently contributed article, we recommended replacing "misbehaviour" with "maladaptive behaviours" - http://www2.rpgresearch.com/Members/lowyhong/using-rpgs-to-correct-misbehaviour
- Thoughts on RPG Assessment Process - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/research/archives/public/public-blogs-test/thoughts-on-rpg-assessment-process
- Dungeons of the Mind: Tabletop RPGs as Social Therapy - https://w3.rpgresearch.com/blog/dungeons-of-the-mind-tabletop-rpgs-as-social-therapy