November 2, 2008

Wii… Rated A for Autism!

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I’m not much of a gamer.  My last experience playing a video game was when Doom was a big deal… in the 90s.  Prior to that, I was a Ms. Pac-Man fanatic as well as a world-class Pong champion {wink}.

Now, the millenium babies have Wii.  And from what I can see, it looks pretty groovy.

When it comes to our children, PE or even recess can be very frustrating for some.   With all the commotion, it can be sensory overload.

Jean Tyrell, a Physical Education teacher at Patterson Mill Middle/High School in Maryland, wanted to increase the daily physical activity of the students in the autism program.  So, she came up with a great way to spend a grant she received.  She purchased a Wii.

“The kids really like Wii,” said Tyrrell, a physical-education teacher. “And I think it’s great. It gives the children with autism an age-appropriate leisure activity to do.”

Since the game was purchased, the children have all learned to play it, said Carolyn Trovinger, who teaches the middle school autism program.

Now before you go thinking, “That’s all our children need… video games in school.”, there are positive aspects of having a Wii.

According to Jim Ball, co-chairman of the Panel of Professional Advisers of the Autism Society of America,

Wii is used with autistic children in several ways.

First, it’s used as an educational tool, Ball said.

“Nintendo Wii is often used as a reinforcer – like a certain food or computer – for children with autism,” Ball said. “It helps to reinforce the skills that children already have.”

Second, Wii helps autistic children modulate their skills, he said.

“When they play the Wii sports games, they actually have to make the motions they would if they were actually bowling or hitting a baseball,” Ball said.

Finally, the game is predictable, he said.

“The machine works the same every single time,” he said. “The kids can predict what will happen next. Once the autistic children figure out the routine, they can play even better.”

This really is a great idea.  I believe it is the building block for getting our children to participate in sports by allowing them to play in an environment that doesn’t overload their senses.

I believe by offering the Wii at school, it helps build the child’s self-esteem because 1) neuro-typical children are interacting with them more through this platform (i.e. offering to help them learn the games), and 2) they are participating in a sport.

Perhaps, Wii will encourage children on the spectrum to try these sports in the non-virtual world.

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