I could be a deadly weapon for any toy company. I spend most of my evenings with children and youth toting and talking about some kind of toy. The way that they talk — such passion, devotion, fervor, and commitment — is intoxicating (and very difficult to redirect back to the topic at hand). Case in point, for three years, I listened to clients young and old talk about Pokémon, a subject that nearly bored me to death until I played Pokémon Crystal. Then, I got it. Obviously, Satoshi Tajiri got it, too. (Interestingly, the creator of Pokémon, Tajiri is said to have Asperger’s Disorder, as is Jim Henson and Charles Schulz, other creative geniuses.)
Pokémon not aside, what is it about Sonic, Thomas, Bakugan, Beyblades, Dungeon and Dragons, Mario, and Magic the Gathering that capture the hearts, minds, and attention spans of individuals with ASD so conclusively?
1. These toys are fun — to play, to carry, to look at, to research, to talk about. What more can you ask for?
2. They have endless variations and possibilities along a linear pathway. That is, many of these toys “battle”, but the ways in which they can win and lose depends on how creative the beholder is. As you know, most Aspies and auties have creativity in spades.
3. They are defined by crystal clear characterizations of good and evil, of strengths and weaknesses, and of talents and hidden powers. When life is defined by nuances, subtleties, and inconsistencies, wouldn’t you cling to simplicity, too? Everything about Sonic and Pikachu embodies their innate goodness, from their colors, to their “moves”, to their causes.
4. There are rules, very specific and infinitely complicated rules, that govern how to play or interact. These rules further pique the interest and sensibility of individuals on the spectrum.
I suppose I could argue that these toys highlight one of the diagnostic criteria of ASDs relating to interests in objects and parts of objects, rather than people. But, I have not seen this criterion play out as statically as the DSM might argue. In fact, Sonic, Pikachu, and Mario have been the mechanisms for much social acceptance, peer communication, and joint attention.
So, Mattel, Hasbro, and Bandai, should you need a covert agent, I might be willing to help.