A little over a year ago Rowan and I visited Cabela’s (an outdoor shop that has an impressive display of taxidermy) for the first time and it was here that he discovered and fell in love with their ‘Big Buck Hunting Game’.
Over the weeks and months since we have gradually noticed his hand eye coordination improve as he learnt to navigate a relatively complex game that involves aiming, firing and reloading a plastic gun in quick succession.
He is now at the stage where he very rarely misses a shot and is regularly awarded the prestigious honor of ‘hunter hero’.
However it wasn’t until eight weeks ago that Rowan discovered the world of video games outside of Cabela’s.
Whilst his friend Tashka was visiting from Australia he met and fell in love with Mario, Yoshi and their friends when she was kind enough to let him play Super Mario Brothers on her Nintendo DS.
He was soon hooked and became even more so when a few weeks later he discovered the Nintendo Wii and Mario Kart.
In the two months since we have noticed many changes in Rowan, both in terms of his cognitive and social skills.
Since September Rowan has been attending a nearby school one day a week and soon after getting his own Nintendo DS we asked whether it would be possible for him to bring it with him to the school.
It wasn’t long before he was discussing the best way to defeat the various enemies that these games involve with the other kids and generally interacting with them in a way we had not seen prior to this.
It was at this point that we asked ourselves whether we could use his love of these games in order to help him learn.
As is often the case with Rowan he himself showed us how to do this by inventing a new game which involved him as Mario and me as Yoshi adventuring together in order to collect ‘power stars’ which we could then take to the ‘Luma Shop’ and use to buy any item that we desired as long as we had enough stars.
It was then we realized that not only do these games encourage turn taking, perspective taking and an understanding of rules and their consequences but they also require a relatively complex understanding of math.
For example collecting the appropriate number of power stars can incorporate addition and subtraction and using them to buy various items in a shop is a good way to model money. In fact if you use your imagination it is possible to introduce any number of topics (speed, distance, space, gravity to name but a few) using these games.
We therefore encourage all parents of children on the spectrum, and in fact all parents in general, to not resist these games but instead use their child’s interest in them to help them learn in fun and intrinsically motivating way.