Wii is used by Davie school to help autistic children
Computer game helps autistic children with communication, motor skills
By Aiyana Baida | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 2, 2009
While playing interactive bowling on a Nintendo Wii video game, 4-year-old Sebastian, closely follows the voice of his speech therapist: "Stand on the X. Press A."
He bites his lip, swings his right arm back, then forward as his right leg lifts off the ground — but he keeps his finger firmly on the button. After several attempts followed by frowns, Sebastian finally lets go of the clicker on the remote control, and knocks down six pins.
"Good listening," said his therapist as he ran up to the television screen with a smile.
"Four weeks ago he couldn't hold the remote, stand in one place and coordinate his movements," said Kimberly Bloom, speech language pathologist and director of Breakthrough Therapy Services. "He's at the last step. He just has to let go."
Like most children with autism, Sebastian struggles with verbal communication and fine motor skills function. Simple tasks like buttoning his shirt and brushing his teeth are major challenges. But after four weeks in Wii-habilitation at Breakthrough Therapy Services in Davie, Sebastian's mom, Ida Kessler, has noticed positive changes.
"With the Wii class, he has to ask for instruction on how things work. Now it's easier for people to get him to talk," said Kessler, of Sunrise.
Bloom developed a structured program using the Nintendo Wii to help autistic kids develop communication, social and motor skills. The idea of using the Wii as interactive therapy came about after her fiance won the Wii at his job in November.
"We don't have kids so I brought it to the center and began developing a lesson plan with it," said Bloom, who worked with her staff of 10 speech and occupational therapists to create goal-oriented lesson plans using several Wii games, like singing and bowling, to develop verbal, motor and social skills.
Some autistic kids are clumsy because they don't know how to use their hands and feet, therapists say. They hold things too tightly or loosely because of lack of stimulation — or too much of it.
Wii therapy aims to teach children to create coordinated movements with their extremities by building on simple movements like clicking a button, to more complex ones like those used in bowling that involve eyes, hands and feet.
"Everything is coming in at the wrong input," said Eva Pacchetti-D'Amaro, an occupational therapist at Breakthrough who supports Wii therapy. "Our modality for treatment is play. We can get the kids to do what we need them to do if we strike their interest."
The National Institute of Mental Health says autism spectrum disorder affects about three in 1,000 children in the United States. Symptoms range from poor eye contact to loss of language and social skills. Depending on these indicators, doctors diagnose a child within the spectrum of autism with severe forms of autism to milder forms like Asperger's Syndrome.
Inspired by an HBO documentary, Autism the Musical, performed by autistic children, Bloom organized a school musical last year. Her students learned Christmas songs and how to play the piano. Erick Feldenkrais, 13, who performed the "5th day of Christmas," practiced his skit and songs every Tuesday night for six months along with 20 other kids who performed in the musical. The audience of about 60 united parents, grandparents, family members and friends on Dec. 20, at Toddler Tech Academy in Hollywood.
"The musical is a gift for all of us," Bloom said.
"It was awesome," said Linda Feldenkrais, Erick's mom, "I was so happy to see him up there."
Feldenkrais said she suspected autism when she noticed 18-month-old Erick pacing the kitchen floors, opening and closing cabinets. When he stopped making eye contact and didn't respond to her voice, she took him to the doctor.
"It was hard because I knew the symptoms of autism from a college child psychology class but I didn't know how to deal with it," Feldenkrais said.
After early intervention and years of therapy, Erick has significantly improved. He still won't initiate conversation but he communicates more and is at the stage where something new like Wii and singing motivate him to go to therapy every week.
"It's a good feeling to hear them say, 'Hi Kim,' when they haven't communicated for 10 years," Bloom said.