Since my son was five years old, he’s been a collector of cards. All cards worked- Magic, baseball cards, and of course Pokemon. Pokemon were by far his favorite. Entire afternoons were spent stacking, lining up, categorizing, and memorizing his Pokemon cards.
Once, I was at a conference about Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, & Aspergers (this was before Aspergers was taken out of the DSM-V). The psychologist brought up the topic of cards and the obsession many of our quirky kids have with them. His theory was that cards gave our kids all the information they needed right upfront. What their name was, what they would evolve to, what their powers were, how they would react when played against another card. And they never changed, you knew exactly what to expect from that card.
In a world where our kids who may have a bit more difficulty reading social cues or interpreting sensory input, this was a world that made sense. They spent their entire day working so much harder than “neurotypical” people did trying to figure out what to expect. When thinking they finally had it all figured out, the environment or the person would change, leaving them scratching their heads. To come home each day, after so much strenuous work, it was regulating and calming to work with these cards.
And along comes Pokemon Go. At first, I was leery. I try to limit screens as both of my children are screen monsters. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously am a big fan of social media and I’m not one to knock it. But I’ve seen the difference that screens can make on both of my boys’ dispositions. I did not want to be a fan of Pokemon Go. But here I am, a huge fan of the newest cultural obsession. Let me count the ways, I love Pokemon Go.
- It has rekindled a relationship between a new-teenager and his parents. Recently, we had seen that shift of him not thinking we are that cool. Of him not wanting to spend every spare minute with us and us really having to work hard at conversation. Totally typical for a teenager to start pulling away a bit but it was pulling at my heartstrings. So we both decided to download the game. And all of a sudden he is sending us memes in the middle of our workdays, spending time in the kitchen while I’m cooking talking to me about Pokemon, and asking if we want to go on walks to catch Pokemon. He said to me just a couple days after downloading the game, “Mom, it makes me so happy that you love Pokemon. For so many years, I’ve been talking to you and everyone about this and felt like nobody cared. And now you all care and it’s so awesome!”. Believe me, that comment gave me all the feels. The bad kind of feels that I had over-and-over again tuned him out when he talked about Pokemon and the good kind of feels that I was finally doing it right and he was feeling listened to and we have a new common interest.
- It has reintroduced exercise into our lives. I like to think we are a fairly active family. We go on hikes, we go swimming, and we go biking together. My oldest plays on a couple sports teams a year. Every day we try to spend time outdoors swinging and having badminton battles or snowball fights in the winter. But some days we weren’t doing that, especially the long work days when my husband and I get home and we’re exhausted. And it was easier to sink into the couches in the evening and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. But since downloading the app, we’ve as a whole family taken a walk every single evening. I haven’t met my “Steps Goal” this consistently in the entire existence of my smart phone.
- It has opened up more social opportunities. It’s amazing, that every time we are on these walks we have met other people caught up in the Pokemon Go craze. We’ve met new people. My older son is making new friends. He isn’t just sitting at a screen, not talking to anyone. When he plays this, he is walking with friends or his parents and talking and laughing and actually out in the world exploring. This is a huge piece that could make a gigantic difference in the world of people on the spectrum. Something that is huge in pop culture right now is something that has always been huge in the world of many people on the spectrum. Heck, the creator of Pokemon is on the spectrum himself.
- It’s helping people who felt a little different feel more like they belong. Though my son has been an avid fan of Pokemon for 8 years now, the past couple of years he hasn’t been as loud and proud about it. Sure, he’s had a few friends that still loved it as much as him and they talked about it a lot. But it wasn’t a big conversation in the hallways of middle school. Now, it’s everywhere. Adults and kids alike are using it. A couple nights after he downloaded it, there was a fun news story that we all happened to catch together. My son’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed how happy he was that the entire world was finally catching on to the awesomeness!
- It’s fun. I’ll admit it, I’m hooked. I downloaded it to try to bond with my son, totally unaware of the fact that I would fall in love with the game. Here I am, mid-30s learning about the different evolutions of Eevees. I’m just going to admit it and let my nerd flag fly high.