It's no secret that kids today are constantly exposed to new television shows, video games, and other various media. It seems as though each week one of my kids is talking about a new video game or app on the Apple iPad that is "the bomb". Ok, so maybe my kids don't say that exactly, but I'm a bit unsure of the “cool” lingo these days. As someone who grew up in the age of Sega and Nintendo (the original) and who is convinced that Zelda is most amazing game ever invented, I am constantly hearing about the newest video game or iPad app that has grabbed the attention of the kids I work with.
So when one of my kids came in to therapy last week talking nonstop about the newest version of a Super Mario game (I've lost track at which one or how many there are these days) and all the different worlds and levels you can play I thought, "How can I turn his love and fixation with this game into a FUNctional therapy activity?" We started with a piece of paper and a pencil. We sat down and discussed six different worlds that are involved in the Super Mario game, looked around the room at the materials we had to use (therapy balls, monkey bars, and balloons to name a few), and then decided we were going to design our own obstacle course based on the worlds involved in the game. He sat down and created a map of each obstacle course. While drawing each course, he was asked to explain what happened in each obstacle and how to make it through each course. Once the map was drawn and the courses developed, it was time to invite a friend to play.
Children with autism are often visual learners who may benefit from teaching strategies involving visual supports, repetitions, and sensory input to actively engage in learning activities. Social activities and interactions with peers can also be difficult at times. In this activity, the child I was working with was able to initiate an interaction with a peer, explain the activity he designed in a way that was easily understood, and followed through with the activity while maintaining topic and a positive social interaction with the friend he asked to play. Throughout the activity, the Super Mario topic was left out completely in the discussion and the activity took on its own unique structure! He was able to use his love of the video game and the concept to build and develop his own idea.
In that one motivating and FUNctional activity we targeted several skills that are essential for children, and anyone for that matter, to have a positive and fun social experience!
These kinds of fun and motivating activities allow children to be creative and be the leaders in their own growth and development! Maybe your child has a love of Minecraft. Challenge them to use their imagination to find different items and materials around the house to build their own fortress or structure to protect from enemies. Or maybe your child loves the Toca Boca Tea Party app on the iPad. Use this idea to encourage your child to invite friends to sit down and have a real tea party! Go beyond the technology and video game systems to create your own fun activities based on these games kids today love so much. All of these activities promote social growth, language development, and all within a FUNctional activity and environment.