Autism, Nintendo Wii

A while ago I wrote a piece called Nintendo Wii and Autism that asked how well an autistic child would cope with a Nintendo Wii. Would its unique controlling mechanism be too complex or unwieldy for an autistic child or would its movement based approach be more intuitive than a traditional games controller?

In response a variety of parents have commented on it:

Mike wrote:

My son is 8 years old and on the high functioning side of the spectrum.
He loves the sports games. He plays Wii Sports and Mario & Sonic At The Olympics a lot. He is very inexperienced with sports due to typical autism type issues and the Wii has acted as a trainer.

Susan’s experience:

My son is 5.5 years old with a medical and educational diagnosis of autism. At his last school meeting I was told he is “super high-functioning”. His current behavior therapist recommended a website (www.starfall.com) … I decided to bring starfall up on the Wii and see if he could figure out the remote. I was amazed! He had never before taken an interest in Wii Sports or anything else on the Wii that the rest of the family plays. After he figured out how to navigate with the remote, he is now able to play the shooting game on Wii Play, and he loves the photo channel and he uses the doodle and mood features to change the photos we have copied over to the Wii.

Mary said:

I have two children with autism ages 7 and 8 and neither is high functioning (Aspergers). The Wii has been a wonderful asset. It has improved my son’s hand-eye coordination and his large motor skills. He would never want to play a family game with us and preferred to play alone. Now he invites us to play with him.

MT wrote:

We love our Wii, and my 7 year old with autism has done so well with it. We first tried it at friends homes where he loved it but didn’t share it well. Once we got it at home a whole new world opened up. … wrote about it on my blog here.

Do read MT’s blog entry in which she takes her son bowling for real after he has mastered bowling on the Wii.

Because autism covers such a spectrum of problems the Wii will not suit all autistic children but it is clear that for some it opens new doors. This is very heartening for my WyyMi project which aims to help with coordination training in people with developmental issues using the Wii.

Music, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games

Over on Wyymi I have an article on how dancing, the cerebellum and language are linked: The Dancing Brain.

Whilst we have found creatures in the animal kingdom than exhibit human like behavior from tool use to waging war, we have never found an animal that makes music and dances to it. Why is this and what part does it play in making us human?

Balance & Coordination, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

A while ago I mentioned Audiosurf, in an article called Rhythm Games Are Taking Over The World

One of the award winning games is Audiosurf. Its not strictly a rhythm game but it music is an integral part of the game play. Its a simple premise, steer a spacecraft down a twisting, turning track collecting some coloured blocks whilst avoiding others. The twist is that the race track is generated from the music you choose to play from your MP3 collection. So you can have a fast and furious race course by selecting some thumping guitar or a slow, easy route if you choose a crooner like Frank Sinatra. What’s more, every time you race, the track and your score is uploaded to a server on the net and you can compare your music and your scores with others around the world.

I’ve have also mentioned the Wii Balance Board a few times, most recently in the article The Future of Cerebellum Training

However, the Wii Fit balance board can also be made work with PC’s and Macs. At the moment the software is a hack, a quick & dirty solution, but over the next few months these will stabilize and become easier to work with. Now, any one with a bit of programming skills and a good knowledge of cerebellum training could create a great dyslexia / ADHD orientated training program. One that personalises the training plan every time it is used, not once every six weeks.

Now I get to mention these two great ideas in one go with Bodysurf. Using GlovePie as an interface, the balance board is connected to a PC and used to play Audiosurf. You can see it in action on this video clip.

For a different hack of the Wii balance board, check out this video of German researchers using it to surf over the word using Google Earth.

Nintendo Wii

Probably not something we will use in WyyMi but this is an interesting idea. It is a Wii Remote shaped like a spray can and was developed as part of a students degree.

Although still early in the development process, it suggests another type of game platform and a fresh twist on the tired “art” app. The success of custom controllers for specific titles suggests that gamers are interested in a more realistic interaction than permitted by a standard joypad. Lihs plans to integrate a communal wall for collaborative graffiti in the eventual software title, that would allow ‘players’ to work on the same art project.

Source: Wiispray prototype graffiti controller for Wii

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Diagnosis, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment, Dyspraxia, Medication, Memory, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was interested in creating a cerebellum training program that was quicker, more effective than Dore. Myomancy was my notebook of interesting technology and relevant science. Over the years I’ve examined many different approaches to the treatment of dyslexia and ADHD. Some were simply nonsense, others had promise but were lacking the scientific, technological or business resources to make them viable. Some lacked the ethical honesty necessary when selling products to parents desperately worried about their children.

Slowly overtime I refined my ideas about how cerebellum training should work and how a independent company without much in the way financial resources could develop and sell such a product in an ethical manner. One main stumbling block has been the cost and availability of the technology necessary to track a user’s limb movements and balance. So I’ve been watching the progress of the Wii and latterly the Wii Fit with interest. The technology needed for cerebellum training was finally cheaply and readily available. What’s more many people already own it.

Originally I intended to make an announcement after slowly develop a proof of concept over the next few months but with the collapse of Dore and the shadow that will cast over the cerebellum training field, I’ve decided to move my plans forward. So I’m pleased to announced the creation of WyyMi, a project to create a free, open-source, open-science cerebellum training program.

What is WyyMi?
WyyMi is a project to develop a cerebellum training program to help people with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and similar educational problems.

Project Goals
To develop a system that cost nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to use; to do it using open-source software; and to make freely available as much scientific evidence on its effectiveness as possible.

How Will It Work?
The idea is to use cheap and easily available computer hardware that can monitor and assess gross motor movements and balance. At the moment the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board seem the best candidates but they need to be adapted to work on PCs and Macs because the Wii console itself is difficult to develop for.

Using this hardware and software on the website, users will be perform a series of exercises. The amount of time spent training and the accuracy of the user’s movement will be logged on the server so that the user can track their progress and so the server can inform the user which exercises to do next. This data will also be aggregated, made anonymous and published so that it can be analyzed by any interested 3rd party. Ideally, symptom specific measures (e.g. spelling tests) will also be included so that the training programs effectiveness in treating educational problems can be measured.

Other than a broad statement of goals and the planned route for achieving them, there is nothing else on site at the moment. Progress is likely to slow, not least because I am working on another project at the moment as well maintaining my existing portfolio of web sites. If you wish to help in anyway, please see the announcement for ways you can contribute, not matter what your skills are.

Myomancy will be continuing to report on anything and everything I think is relevant to dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Obviously as I am planning to create my own training program, that might create a conflict of interest when discussing other people’s approach. I will try and be as unbiased as possible and make my conflict of interest clear.

Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

As a follow up The Future of Cerebellum Training here some links on hacking the Wii, the Wiimote and the Wii balance board. These are mostly for my own interest so feel free to ignore them.

Wiimote + Flash (using GlovePie) video; Wiiflash – the PC only way of integrating the Wiimote into Flash applications; video of someone using the balance board and PC to surf the net; WiiUse is a C library for interfacing with Wiimotes; GlovePie, another way of interfacing; MoteDaemon is a Flash interface for OSX; DarwiinRemote, another interface for the Mac.

ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia Treatment, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

With the financial collapse of Dore in Australia, it is inevitable that questions will be because its ask about the long-term future of cerebellum training. The financial problems are Dore will cast a shadow over this approach to dyslexia and ADHD but I don’t believe it will kill it. Why? Partly because it works for some people but mostly because Dore is irrelevant to the future.

One of Dore’s key selling points was a personalised program based on the six weekly check-ups using their hi-tech balance machine. However that advantage has gone or will be gone in the next few months. The worldwide release of the Wii Fit Balance Board put a hi-tect balance machine in people’s living rooms for £69.99.

The balance board is not any use without some software and the Wii Fit software that comes with it, whilst good for general balance training, is nowhere near a replacement for Dore. Unfortunately developing software for a console like the Wii is expensive because of licensing issues and the special tools need to write the software. So its unlikely any company involved in cerebellum training will have enough money to pull it off.

However, the Wii Fit balance board can also be made work with PC’s and Macs. At the moment the software is a hack, a quick & dirty solution, but over the next few months these will stabilize and become easier to work with. Now, any one with a bit of programming skills and a good knowledge of cerebellum training could create a great dyslexia / ADHD orientated training program. One that personalises the training plan every time it is used, not once every six weeks.

Of course, the any training program would need to be tested and validated. Once again, technology can allow the little guy to do this on a budget. Anyone using the training system can sign-up to be part of the trial. Via the internet they can automatically log their usage and fill out regular questionnaires on symptoms or take online reading tests. All this data can then be anonymised and placed online so that anyone, pro or anti cerebellum, can analyse that data. Such a study would have many problems, not least the self-reporting aspect of it, but if the training works there should be a strong signal in the data to warrant more detailed studies.

Digital Fitness, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii

Do you think that Guitar Hero is just about bad 80’s pop and heavy metal? Think again. Alex Wroten, a music student, has converted it into a genuine musical instatement for serious music.

One thing that struck me about [Guitar Hero] is that it has a stigma from those people who think it is ruining the potential musical literacy of children by giving them instant success versus practicing on a real instrument. This led me to want to turn the controller into a viable instrument.


I wrote Guitar Hero Instrument in MaxMSP on my Macbook to turn the XBOX Guitar Hero controller (only tested with GHII’s X-plorer controller!) into a playable instrument. This software has a lot of features, including harmonic tweaking, overdrive, delay, scale selection, and scale temperament (from 3 to 25-note equal temperament). It processes the controller input into pitches based on which button is pressed first and subsequent slurring; this gives the controller a range of 25 pitches (these pitches depend on base frequency, harmonic tweaking, and scale selection). The Guitar Hero controller’s tilt function is not mapped to any software feature at this time.

And here is a video of an original piece of music being performed with it.

More detail on Alex Wroten’s site.

Music, Rhythm Games, Sports

Apologies for another quick post but work-related project combined with the death a family member is leaving very little time for the in-depth examination I want to do.

Run to the Beat is an interesting example of music and its role in psychology. Its a half-marthon where music is part of the run. Taking the idea of running whilst listening to an iPod to its logical conclusion, Run To The Beat plan to have live music playing along the course but carefully chosen to fit the needs of the runners at that point.

1. During sub-maximal running, music can narrow attention and, as a consequence, divert your mind from sensations of fatigue. This lowers your perception of effort and is a technique known as dissociation. This phenomenon can promote more positive mood through encouraging you to avoid thoughts that relate to the physical symptoms of fatigue. Also, music increases positive aspects of mood such as vigour and happiness but reduces negative aspects such as tension and depression.

2. Music alters emotional and physiological arousal and can therefore be applied as a type of stimulant or sedative prior to competition to ease your nerves and curb your anxiety. In such instances, the music is used before running to help you achieve the right mindset. Some athletes use very upbeat music to psych-up while others use slow-tempo music to psych-down. Music is considered by some athletes as a “legal drug” with the added advantage of no unwanted side effects!

3. Numerous studies have shown that the synchronisation of music with repetitive exercise results in increased levels of work output. This applies to activities such as rowing, cycling and cross-country skiing as well as running. Musical tempo can regulate movement and reduce the energy expenditure or “oxygen uptake” required during running. Recent research shows that during moderate intensity exercise synchronous music can help to reduce energy expenditure by 6%.

4. The rhythmical qualities of music emulate the pattern of some physical skills. Therefore, music can enhance the acquisition of motor skills and create a better learning environment. Essentially, the performance of running drills can be improved by the presence of background music while, during a long run, music can enhance your technique and make you a more efficient athlete.

Digital Fitness

Wired is reporting that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency is using three custom designed video games to teach it security analysts.

Wired.com had an opportunity to play all three games, Rapid Onset, Vital Passage and Sudden Thrust. The titles may conjure images of blitzkrieg, but the games themselves are actually a surprisingly clever and occasionally surreal blend of education, humor and intellectual challenge, aimed at teaching the player how to think.

Each game only takes about 90 minutes to three hours, and has multiple story lines that branch depending on a player’s actions. All DIA analysts will eventually play them, from rookies to old hands who will use them for refresher training. The DIA has about 2,000 analysts, but the agency has been tasked with training another 2,000 in the U.S. military’s combatant commands, many of whom work overseas far from training facilities. With classroom space and instructors at a premium, Bennett estimates that every hour spent training with a game saves one hour of classroom instruction, plus travel time and expense.

Its great that serious bodies like the DIA are using games but I can’t help wondering what proof they have that they work. Have they done studies where some students did traditional classroom learning whilst others learnt through games and then compared test results? If they have, I would love to see that data.

Source: U.S. Spies Use Custom Videogames to Learn How to Think