Video games are more than just “time wasters” or an inexpensive way to have some fun. They can be used as a tool to help children who have a variety of special needs. There are adapted controllers, games designed for kids with specific special needs, and even classroom applications for video games.
There are plenty of parents who would describe themselves as “gamers”. These are the people who have been playing video games since they were children, and who are still playing video games today. There are also quite a few parents who feel that all video games are a waste of time, or who think that all video games are “evil”.
Parents need to know that there are some video games can be used as a tool to help children, (and adults), who have special needs. There are video games, and video game controllers, that have been adapted so that kids with certain physical needs can play the games with their friends. There are video games that can help with therapy or with pain management. Some schools have started using multiplayer video games in the classroom, to help kids with social skills and learning teamwork.
The avenger controller was originally designed by a teacher for one of his students. The teenage student had a skin condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa. It is a hereditary condition that causes a person’s skin to be especially sensitive, and to blister easily.
The teacher, David Kotkin, adapted a standard Xbox controller so the student could comfortably use it to play video games with his friends. The controller had strings added to it that help people to reach the controls and triggers that are on the standard Xbox controller. It is now made by a company called N-Control. Anyone can purchase one for the gamer in their life who has physical disabilities.
Professor Peter Bingham, from the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care, created some video games that are designed to assist children who have cystic fibrosis with their daily respiratory therapy.
To play these games, you have to use a spirometer, instead of a hand held controller. The games require the player to blow into the spirometer in a certain way, just like they would for respiratory therapy. One game is a race game that involves driving a car. The other game is called “Creep Frontier”. Players must move an avatar around the environment and attack slimes.
Some schools are incorporating the popular MMORPG video game World of Warcraft into the classroom. It has been shown that students who have an autism spectrum disorder can learn social skills from playing the game with their classmates. They learn how to get along with the players in their guild.
They learn how to ask someone for help, and how to help someone else with a task. More importantly, they get the opportunity to practice social skills in a safe environment. The students then take those learned skills into the real world, and make friends with other students.
Two researchers from the University of Washington’s Medical Center in Seattle created a game called “SnowWorld”. It has virtual penguins who are in an icy, snowy, cold, environment. It is being used with soldiers who are burn victims to help them with pain management. I think this game could also be used with kids who are recovering from burns.
Image by Benjamin Nagel on Flickr