Pinball Machines and Autism.

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I have just been reading an article about an ex competition pinball player Joe Said, who has setup a Pinball Arcade for people on the Autistic Spectrum.

autistic-pinball-autism

autistic-pinball-autism

Joe Said and his colleague Bill Watson, noticed how many of the competitive players had a diagnosis of Autism, but enjoyed the game of pinball and were very good at it.

This enjoyment found in playing pinball by people with autism is a little baffling and I am keen to investigate it further. In a previous life I worked with people who were severely Autistic and what I learned and studied seems to make it counter-intuitive that autistic people could find pinball enjoyable.

First there are the flashing lights. We found and were taught that autistic people can struggle with flashing lights – in particular fluorescent lights. Then there is the noise. Pinballs are noisy from the audio and from the mechanics of the game. Autistic people are said to find lots of noise sometimes overwhelming. Pinball is a game of chance and skill. There are controllable elements and a lot of randomness. Again, conversely we came to see and were taught that people on the autistic spectrum prefer order and struggle with unexpected change.

So why then, is playing pinball very popular with some (can’t be all surely) people who are autistic?

Robert Gagno is a world pinball champion. he is also someone who has a diagnosis of Autism.

robert-gagno-autistic-pinball-player

robert-gagno-autistic-pinball-player

In this BBC report Robert recounts how playing pinball first gave him some escapism from the demands of a confusing world, but ultimately helped him take more of a part in that world.

I can’t help but wonder if it is the sense of being able to control the random aspect of the game and bring it under control that, at least in part, makes pinball attractive. The outside and often confusing world cannot be brought under control very often.

As I write I have now found another Pinball / Autistic story. This is by CBC News in Canada. It reports on  a father Michael Primeau who has an Autistic son who loves to play Pinball.

Michael reports how playing Pinball and some other games enabled him to connect with his son.

He himself says in the report that it is something of a mystery why pinball is enjoyable for people on the autistic spectrum.

A thought just crossed my mind. I know that there is a higher rate of autism per capita of population in Silicon Valley – than anywhere else in the world. See here. So it would stand to reason that there would at least be a chance that pinball machines would be popular in some of the Silicon valley Giants. Well a quick Google would seem to at least not deny this.

here is a Facebook office in Silicon valley.

Here is a Google games room albeit in Zurich not silicon valley.

Here’s another Google office

And if that’s not enough here’s a news report about their $131m Boulder Campus.

I know this doesn’t prove a thing – but will do one last one before leaving this train of thought.

here is a Spotify office:

I am going to investigate this further but this will do for now. Except that online I have just found Pinballoutreach.org which was a charity that took pinballs onto locations for children and with some who have autism. Sadly it seems to have closed now – but was seemingly.

There is clearly something to this and it is worthy of further investigation. if you have any experience of autism and pinball – please drop me a line.

If hiring a jukebox or pinball or air hockey table or pool table is of interest then please email us at c.mcfarquhar@jukebox45s.co.uk

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