Gaming Therapy: There’s An App For That

by Dave Beaudoin

With all the negative press about video games recently I thought it would be a good idea to take a moment and look at one way in which gaming can make a real difference in the life of a child. Cortney AbouElSeoud is a long time friend of mine who has two children with Fragile X Syndrome. I asked Cortney to share some of her family’s experiences using education and entertainment games on an iPad with their son Ayden. For more information about Ayden and Fragile X Syndrome visit Cortney’s blog  or the National Fragile X Foundation website.

 

 The iPad.  Everyone you know owns one, you probably do too.  The appeal of the iPad (and other tablets) is their versatility for all types of users.  If the user is a grandmother who can barely boot up a computer, a social networker who posts their entire life on Facebook, a businessman, or a gamer – the iPad really does have an app for that.   In our house, that iPad is the property of one adorable little (almost) six year old boy named Ayden.

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Ayden has a genetic disorder called Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X Syndrome is a spectrum disorder, much like Autism, where there is a range of affectedness and abilities. For Ayden, this means he has little to no communication skills, verbal or nonverbal. Paired with anxiety and focus problems, this combination presents us with many challenges; one of those being receiving feedback from him on what he knows and understands.

Faced with this unique set of learning challenges, I began looking into different options that could help us to combat some of them.  I started my search online, gravitating to blogs of other parents with special needs children.  Scattered among those blogs were reports of parents turning to newer technology such as the iPad to assist their children in learning.  Once I began to specifically look at how the iPad could be used as a learning tool, I knew it was the perfect match for Ayden.

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I think back to the difference in Ayden since we first put an iPad in his hands. The first app I remember him using was Angry Birds. To someone who isn’t around special needs children it may seem like just another game, but we use it for a few different therapies: focus, problem solving, and fine motor skills. While not the case anymore, it used to be the only thing he would sit and do for more than a few minutes at a time. With his fine motor skills and focus being much better now, we mostly use Angry Birds (and its many variations) for fun and motivation to do other activities (things we refer to as non-preferred activities).

As we have used the iPad more and more we have slowly moved through apps that covered basic preschool skills such as letters, numbers, and colors only to find that he already knew these things.  He was absorbing so much information, but had no way to convey it through traditional means. The iPad provided him that medium. It didn’t take long for us to realize the iPad and apps we were using had introduced a way for Ayden to communicate with us and regurgitate all the information he already had in his head. Not only were we able to see confirmation of how much he understood, but we were also able to show others.

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Now that Ayden is in kindergarten, I diligently search for apps that can supplement and reinforce what is being taught at school. We use a stylus and penmanship app to work on writing letters as well as phonics of the letters we are writing. There is another app we use that works on sight words (reading). For math skills, we have apps to teach counting, telling time, patterns, and money. And while we read the digital versions of many books, there are also interactive books that allow you to explore the environment of the story as well. For Ayden and other children with Fragile X Syndrome who are visual learners, this type of teaching just can’t be topped.

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We have used the iPad to create a total learning environment specifically tailored to meet Ayden’s current needs. An environment that he enjoys taking part in and even requests to use. This is an environment that will continue to grow as he does and be a viable educational supplement for many years to come.