Pinball

Game time: Nick Dawtrey at home with two of his 10 pinball machines. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Nick Dawtrey is 16 years old but he's already being hailed as Australia's next pinball superstar.

In the one tournament he has competed at in his home town of Canberra, he knocked out some of the country's best professional players to take second place behind Australia's No.1, Richard Rhodes.

He has an ability to memorise strategies and practice for hours at a time without break - a characteristic of his autism.

''I was playing [pinball] when I was two. I've enjoyed it for quite a long time,'' Nick said. ''My favourite is Monster Bash [pinball machine], which has the entire goal to activate different modes. One of the most fun modes is Frankenstein.''

Nick suffers from a mild form of autism. He is extremely shy but has an obsessional interest in video games and can talk about it for hours. He was diagnosed six years ago, although his father, Lindsay, said he and his wife, Juliet, always knew Nick was ''slightly different''.

''He's always been sensitive to light and touch,'' said Mr Dawtrey, who has collected at least 10 pinball machines in their Franklin home. ''Nick's grown up with pinball machines around him. There is a lot of hand eye co-ordination with moving the tipper at the same time. It builds confidence to play a game that's not pre-programmed.''

Nick is just one of a number of young people with autism who are paving the way as the next generation of pinball champions.

Sufferers of autism spectrum disorder have extremely good visual, spatial and memory skills, which gives them ''a tendency to be very good with gaming'', the chair of the autism centre of excellence at Griffith University, Professor Jacqueline Roberts, said.

''If they're mixing with other people who are really into pinball machines that gives them a social context as well that they can do quite well in because they're with people who share their powerful interests,'' she said.

Australian Pinball League director Norbert Snicer said he was looking to younger players like Nick to raise Australia's world ranking.

For now, Nick is happy to play at home but he is looking forward to entering more tournaments when the family moves to Sydney later this year. ''It's interesting and fun and a new way to meet people,'' he said.

While Mr Dawtrey hopes his son will pursue something other than being a professional pinball player, for the moment, he is happy for Nick to rise up the pinball charts.