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From start to finish: teenagers on the autism spectrum developing their own collaborative game

Benoît Bossavit (Public University of Navarre, Pamplona, Spain)
Sarah Parsons (University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)

Journal of Enabling Technologies

ISSN: 2398-6263

Article publication date: 19 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how teenagers on the autism spectrum respond to their involvement in the creation of a collaborative game, meeting the curriculum requirements in programming at secondary level in England.


Two autistic teenagers were involved in participatory design processes to elaborate and develop together a collaborative game of their choice using the visual programming software, Kodu Game Lab.


With the support of adults (teachers and the researcher), the participants were able to demonstrate and strengthen their participation, problem-solving and programming skills. The participants expressed their preferences through their attitudes towards the tasks. They created a game where the players did not need to initiate any interaction between each other to complete a level. Furthermore, the students naturally decided to work separately and interacted more with the adults than with each other.

Research limitations/implications

This is a small case study and so cannot be generalised. However, it can serve as starting point for further studies that involve students with autism in the development of interactive games.

Practical implications

It has been shown that disengaged students can develop various skills through their involvement in software programming.


Overall, this paper presents the involvement of teenagers on the autism spectrum in the initial design and development of a collaborative game with an approach that shaped, and was shaped by, the students’ interests. Although collaboration was emphasised in the intended learning outcomes for the game, as well as through the design process, this proved difficult to achieve in practice suggesting that students with autism may require stronger scaffolding to engage in collaborative learning.



The authors are grateful to the New Forest School in Fawley, Hampshire, UK and the teenagers who spent their time with the study. Benoît Bossavit received a grant from the Universidad Pública de Navarra, Spain; this research was conducted while the author was a Visiting Student at the University of Southampton, UK.

Statements on open data, ethics and conflict of interest: Data are qualitative and can be accessed by e-mailing the first author. The project was reviewed and approved by the appropriate research ethics committee at the University of Southampton (Ref No. 15387), following ESRC and BERA guidelines. There is no conflict of interest.


Bossavit, B. and Parsons, S. (2017), "From start to finish: teenagers on the autism spectrum developing their own collaborative game", Journal of Enabling Technologies, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 31-42.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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