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Monday, August 13, 2012

From Wii to the "Real World" - how video games can open the door to new experiences

Video games can be more than just entertainment - safe and "controllable" experiences in the electronic world can build knowledge and confidence that allows individuals with autism to willingly try new activities in the "real world".

Today I'm giving over the blog to a "guest blogger": Casey, Adam's dad. Last week he e-mailed me a great story about Adam's first experience with the game of golf, which he has kindly agreed to share "with the group".

Adam & his dad, Casey (photo by Beth Walsh, Adam's mom)

And now from Casey:
Adam has recently started playing the golf game on the Wii, so after Beth went to work today Adam and decided to head out to the golf range to swat a few balls.

I showed him the picture, ran through some videos of guys swinging clubs (heaven forbid that he modeled my swing). We first went to the practice putting greens and tackled the first big decision: is he a lefty or a righty? He’s right handed (draws and prints with his right as you know), so we tried both sides and the right side seemed more natural (although unlike his dad he does not seemed to be profoundly right side oriented). He quickly mastered that, was at least 3 putting and more usually 2 putting most of the greens.
Then we switched to the big test. I started with the middle irons, which I think are the easiest to hit. Pretty ugly at first, the pro wandered out, asked if I minded if he gave some tips (clearly and easily discerning that I am a golfing moron). Didn’t flinch when he saw that Adam had some communications issues (I just said just speak slowly, clearly and use common words and he’ll be fine) which he did, and he was. Within 10 minutes Adam was getting under the ball. Not very far mind you, but pretty good up and down motion and more or less straight. The pro was excellent, very patient and gentle with Adam, just focused on one thing at a time, demonstrated with his own body with just the right amount of words. Adam loved it. We stuck with the irons for about 45 minutes and then switched to a driver, in this case a small fairway driver. Small head, easy to swing and less likely to get weird movement on the ball (although somehow I manage to do just that). Adam is still very stiff and does not have a natural swing (unlike his Mother who does) but you could see him improving by the minute. Not as successful with the driver, but he did OK. When offered the choice of McD or more golfing, he said more golfing. We finished off with a few more minutes on his irons and then back to the putting greens. 2 ½ hours total, I tried to pay the pro for his time (he spent easily an hour with us, waved it off … I have a nephew just like Adam, least I could do) and in the end all it cost me was a bucket of balls … and of course 2 hamburgers, no pickles no onions, medium fry and an ice cream cone.

...  As we were leaving the pro came over and complimented me on Adam, said that he was very sweet guy, listened well, tried hard, didn’t get upset when things went wrong. If all his students were like him he would have a lot more hair (he was effectively bald), we laughed and shook hands.

A fantastic evening, a dad and his son plunking a few balls around in the setting sun …

Thanks for sharing that Casey!

Adults with autism need to keep learning, so that their lives (and the lives of their families) remain interesting and fulfilling.  Electronic games are an unorthodox type of educational tool that is definitely useful for opening up new areas of learning and experience, and expanding the everyday worlds of ASD individuals.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Draw Something! ... using a popular interactive iPad game to teach drawing for communication

I'm a big believer in changing up intervention programs over the summer months and giving everybody (kids and parents and professionals) a break from the school year schedule. This year, Adam and I are exploring the communication possibilities of some iPad games that are social and interactive in nature. I have found, over the years, that some of the best voluntary focused learning happens in games and "fun" interactions (to quote Mary Poppins: "just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!").

"Draw Something" is a great iPad and iPhone app that is essentially a "barrier" game (common therapy structure for communication learning) - I can't see what you have in front of you, and you need to use some form of communication to transmit the idea or concept to me. It's like the board game "Pictionary" in that you have a word that you need to illustrate for the other person to guess. Guessing is supported by having a "closed set" of letters to choose from, as well as blanks that indicate how many letters are in the "mystery word".

Here's an example of a word clue I drew for Adam:

visual clue drawn by me (Sheila B) for Adam

The receptive side of this game (for the person who is the "guesser") works on language skills like word retrieval, word meaning and spelling. If a clue is hard to guess, you can use the "bombs" (lower right) to take away some of the letters that are not in the puzzle (caution! once you run out of these, you have to wait to have enough coins to buy more, so we've learned to use them sparingly). There's also a spot for the person drawing to add comments (which appear after the word is guessed), and I use this to give extra language "context" for the word in the puzzle:

On the expressive side (for the person who is drawing the clue), the game reveals vocabulary knowledge (what do you think the word means?), letting therapists and educators know what gaps to teach to. It also directly practices drawing to communicate - can you draw the meaning of the word clearly enough that another person (at a distance) can understand?

Adam is a natural at this game, and it's provided an interesting way to discover what vocabulary and word information he has learned over the past while. Even though we've known each other for years, I still find myself amazed at the breadth and depth of knowledge revealed through a task like this - often he's just waiting for us to ask the right question in the right way.

His line drawings are full of information and are very clear depictions of the word meanings (and this is not easy to do - when I play this game with my husband, a very smart scientist, I often have to resort to totally random guessing because his drawn clues are ... hmmm, how to put it politely? ... not clear).

Here are some of Adam's drawing clues that he sent to me:

drawn by Adam

drawn by Adam

drawn by Adam

drawn by Adam

drawn by Adam

When you are the person drawing, you have a choice of three words to illustrate. Initially, Adam chose mostly "1 coin" (easier) words, but as he gained confidence, he's tried out some 2 & 3 coin words as well (these words tend to be more conceptual and/or more complex to illustrate).

Here's an example of a clue I drew for Adam for a word that was a non-action verb:

drawn by me

And here's a clue that Adam drew for me for a word that was a concept, using the same idea of drawing a context, then putting in dashes to represent where the word fits:

drawn by Adam

We've also been using this game to highlight special topic vocabulary. For example, since it's the Olympics right now, I chose some "sporting" words on my turns. Here's one that I drew for Adam to guess:

drawn by me

Then Adam chose to give me a sports word on the next turn:

drawn by Adam

This type of drawing exercise helps to build language related to current events in a person's life.

I could easily add in several more pages of drawings, but I'll make myself stop (did I mention that a side benefit for therapist or parent is their own great enjoyment and entertainment? you will treasure the pictures you receive and you will find your own neuroplasticity increasing as you challenge yourself to communicate without verbal language). Well, maybe just a couple more to make my last point (for now) ....

You can use your drawing turns to demonstrate some generally understood visual devices that convey meaning. For example, an arrow indicating which part of your picture illustrates the specific word you are drawing. Here's one of my examples for Adam, drawing the word "voice":

drawn by me

And this is the one that Adam drew for me. Can you guess the puzzle?

drawn by Adam

Have fun, and give the game a try!

** free version is good for a trial, but if you're going to play more frequently, I would suggest purchasing the full app (less than $5, no advertising, be warned that in-app purchases are possible) **