Sunday, August 30, 2009

Autism and Nintendo's Wii

Although I am sure there will be many people who disagree with me, I firmly believe that every child on the autism spectrum needs a wii. We have had ours for about 2 ½ years now, and I can’t imagine what our life would be like without it.

The most obvious benefit of the wii is in gross motor skills and general exercise. Our two favorite games are the new Sports Resort game, and the older Outdoor Challenge. Both of these games have activities that require a ton of movement and coordination. On a day when Michael needs to burn off energy but can’t get outside, they are perfect.

What I like the best is that the game is set to adapt to each user’s current level. There are some activities that require jumping and running, others where you can sit and move only your upper body. As you get better at each activity, you get more levels and options – a great incentive to keep practicing.

I was surprised at the level of fine motor skills that are required for some of the games. For example, in the Island Flyover game in Sports Resort, you are looking for 80 different points of interest around the islands. Some are easy to get to, but others require a great deal of fine motor skills (i.e. flying through tunnels).

The archery game requires hand-eye coordination in order to hit the targets and get the most points. There is also a sword-based speed slicing game that combines visual processing speed and fine motor control. The object is to slice an object before you opponent, using the direction indicated on screen. On one hand, it’s simple, but it also requires fast processing of both vision input and motor output.

All the things I’ve talked about so far are fairly straight-forward physical benefits. What isn’t so obvious is the social skills building that the game provides. The first is simple turn-taking. Each player gets a turn, and has to wait for their next turn. But there are also levels of sportsmanship and teamwork that are often overlooked. Working together toward a common goal often brings out the best in kids, even if that goal is just to move your canoe faster than the other team.

Another final, hidden benefit of the wii is how it can mask social awkwardness. Michael can’t sit and play a board game with you, but he can bowl. Just being able to turn on the wii has saved many playdates from disaster. Other kids can overlook social deficits if they are genuinely having fun, and are willing to come back and play again. A very nice thing for our kids!

I don’t think I’ve met a parent who has a child on the spectrum and a wii who has regretted the purchase. Most parents value one set of benefits more highly than others, but everyone understands how good it is for their child. So, how do we contact Nintendo for an autism grant?


Tammi Wyatt Halvorson said...

I completely agree with you! Our boys love our WII and it is something that they can all play together too. I think the wii has been great for motor skills and even executive reasoning on many of the games. My son's behavior therapist was actually the one that encouraged because I have always been so anti-video game and she convinced me that the wii was so much more interactive.

Renee said...

I have seen Wiis at my son's summer camp last year, and an OT that I went to.. they really are taking over. My mom was always very anti-video game, but even she is becoming a convert!

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Santa has a Wii on his list for the Stagirls!