Video games = therapy?



Like most nine-year olds, Christian Farley loves computer and video games. His mom, April, says Christian is a serious gamer of Wii, Play Station, and Nintendo DS game consoles. He experiences these games differently, however, than the typical nine-year old. Christian has Pervasive Development Disorder, ADHD and Albinism. Like autism and autism spectrum disorders, people with pervasive development disorder have sensory processing issues, including auditory hypersensitivity.

 

Gaming software specifically designed for children like Christian didn’t exist until 2007, when Vision Audio, Inc., which has been designing cd-based auditory intervention programs called EASe, or Electronic Auditory Stimulation Effect, created the “Treasure Hunt Game,” the first serious video game to attempt to integrate a virtual visual/vestibular environment with auditory stimulation.

 

Hudson Valley Parent spoke with Bill Mueller, company president and designer of the game. He was a Grammy-winning sound engineer and has worked with a number of musicians, including Pink Floyd. Mueller is also a game designer and created a game called SIMConstellation for NASA. He has been interested in helping children with auditory hypersensitivity since the early 1980s.

 

Hudson Valley Parent: How do EASe games work?

Bill Mueller: EASe products deliver short, intense bursts of sensory experiences to stimulate, but not over-stimulate a child experiencing difficulty with sensory processing and organization.

 

HVP: Can you explain sensory processing issues, or sensory processing disorders?

 

BM: Sensory processing becomes atypical for people with sensory disorders, resulting in hypo (lowered) sensitivity or hyper (increased or habituated) sensitivity. It may be hard for someone to understand that having hypersensitive hearing, sight, taste, touch or smell might also be a serious disadvantage to an individual. Light can be blinding, sound deafening, a light touch can feel like a burn, a taste awful, a texture disgusting and a smell obnoxious. It can be an overwhelming experience for the individual, especially a child.

 

HVP: How do these  processing issues affect a child?

 

BM: A child with auditory hypersensitivity will experience an un-habituated response or reflex to noise sources that neuro-typical individuals would have normally adjusted to by their age. It is as though the child is experiencing a startled reflex over and over again. Imagine how difficult life would be for you if every time you heard a loud noise, you were startled.

As a result of these conditions, some children try to control their environment by overpowering external sources of light or noise with their own, internal stimulation. Another way to control the world is to become sensory defensive and shut down. The sensory defensive child may appear deaf, uncommunicative, in their own world at times, and then when they lose control, hyper-responsive at other times.

Sometimes, it is particular frequencies of light or sounds that trigger the loss of control and the outbursts. This condition is typical in children on the autism spectrum and can be confusing to parents.

 

HVP: What can be done to help children with these issues?

 

BM: This is a difficult question to answer, so I will talk about what we at Vision Audio try to do for these children. Our work lies primarily in the auditory realm, and recently in attempts to help children with balance and proprioceptive issues through the visual/ vestibular/auditory triad. [A proprioceptor is a sensory nerve ending in muscles, tendons and joints that provides a sense of the body’s position by responding to stimuli from within the body.]

Studies have shown that the brain grows connections between neurons in response to external stimulation.

We believe that in the hypersensitive child, the brain hasn’t grown enough connections to aid in processing sensory information.

It is our goal with the EASe music, video game and voice therapeutic tools, to expose the child to high intensity stimulus to help the brain grow neurological connections, but do so in short enough durations, to avoid triggering a flight or flight response.

 

HVP: How do the games accomplish this?

 

BM: All of the EASe games are either driving or flying games. This is to create a constant challenge to a child's sense of balance and spatial orientation within the game world. This is called a virtual vestibular environment. As the child plays the game, their brain is adjusting and responding to and learning from vestibular challenges that will carry over in the real world when they are walking, running and riding in a car.

The other reason for the flying and driving games is to make the games entertaining. The products are most effective when the child willingly participates in therapy.

 

HVP: What would you like parents of children on the autism spectrum to know?

 

BM: These games are not a cure, but a small step in the right direction. There are resources out there that can help and there is hope for parents. Also, these cds are 1/10th the cost of a therapy session. easecd.com

Side bar: A triad of senses explained

 

Our brain uses a variety of sources of information to judge where we are in space. One of those sources is the vestibular balance sensation. That comes from the vestibular cochlea that is connected to the auditory cochlea in the inner ear.

The vestibular cochlea shares the facial nerve, bone structure and even fluid with the auditory cochlea and so can be affected by sound (auditory stimulus). The third element is our visual orientation. Try standing on one foot and then close your eyes to experience the difference.

Read the Farley's review.