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?

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.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

Nintendo has offically announced that the Wii Fit will be launched on May 19th for $89.99. That’s $10 more and one day earlier than we predicted. For those of you living in New York, from April 18 through 20,

“[The] first 1,000 consumers who place a $5 deposit for Wii Fit at the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Plaza will receive a limited edition Wii Fit T-shirt featuring the image and reproduced autograph of legendary Nintendo video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.”

With the announcement of the Wii Fit release date, Amazon have started to take pre-orders. Interestingly, Amazon claim a release date of the 21st May but the press release says “Available at Nintendo World store starting on May 19”. Its possible it will be in the Nintendo store a couple of days before its general release.

The Wii Fit has sold 1.4 million copies in Japan and demand is expected to be strong when its released in the states. Amazon have even placed a limit on the number you can buy:

“As you may know, the Nintendo Wii Fit is in great demand, and there are shortages of this product across the U.S. In an effort to provide as many customers as possible with the opportunity to purchase a Wii Fit, we are limiting the total number of Wii Fits that can be purchased. As a result, each household may only purchase up to 3 Nintendo Wii Fit units total.”

For us Europeans, the Wii Fit release date is that much closer. The UK release date is the 25th April for £69.99. Looking at the price, it seems that UK and European customers are once again getting screwed. With an exchange rate of $2 = £1 the US price of $89.99 looks great values compared to the UK price of £69.99.

In Australia, the Wii Fit release date will be the 8th May.

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

One of the short comings of the Dore program and all movement based treatments is the low level of feedback you get when doing the exercises. Without someone watching you and checking the instructions for an exercise, its very hard to tell if you are doing them correctly. This is a major problem for people who cannot tell left hand from right and could easy spend ten minutes doing an exercise without noticing they are doing it completely wrong. Of course having someone to help is ideal but for adults doing the course that isn’t always possible and for children, it demands a great deal of time from other members of the family.

Its partly because of this problem that I’m interested in how technology can help deliver training programs like Dore. Computers or games consoles are the perfect way to monitor the exercises and provide feedback so that the exercisers knows they are doing it correctly. This reduces wasted time, improves the rate of progress and most importantly, reduces the demand on the rest of the family. This all adds up to a more effective treatment with a lower drop-out rate.

One technological development that has a lot promise is the slowly emerging 3D cameras. These are not strictly speaking 3D cameras, instead they use a variety of methods to identify depth and distance. This information is then passed back to the computer which can use it to workout if objects are moving towards it or away from it. Something that is very hard to do with a traditional camera.

The best demonstration of this technology I can find is this Second Life demonstration. Second Life (SL) is a virtual reality world shared by many thousands of people. Using a mouse and keyboard the players moves their avatar through the world but in this demo, a 3D camera is used to track the players movements.

It is not hard to make the leap from this demonstration to a computer program that tracks how well the person does does an exercise. We are already seeing this sort of approach in Wii Fit. More demonstrations of the technology are available from the makers of the camera. Here, an on-screen avatar mimics the movement of a real person and in this one, the player is throwing and catching a virtual ball. More are available from 3DVSystems.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Sony PSP

The 10th Annual Independent Games Festival has been a treasure trove of rhythm games and examples of how games could be included in education.

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.

Audiosurf introduces a couple of interesting concepts. It allows the user to completely control the level of difficulty through their song selection. A recording of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will be vastly easier than anything by Motorhead. To see an example of this, watch this video of Audiosurf for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The beginning is slow and mellow but later on (about 4:15 mins Wayne’s World fans) it kicks into serious headbanging guitar and everything gets much harder.

The other interesting aspect of selecting your own music is the possibility of Mozart Effect. I don’t refer to the much hyped and oversold Mozart Effect range of products but the more general principal than music, particularly complex classical music, has in the neurological development of children. There is good, but not overwhelming evidence, that music can help calm and mentally stimulate children. I’m willing to be that if the Mozart Effect is real, it will be enhanced if the children are exposed to it as part of an interactive game.

Winner of the Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival was Synaesthete. In this free-to-download PC game, the player explores an abstract landscape populated by monsters and other dangers. To destroy the creatures you can fire a variety of attacks at them. The twist being that to attack them, you need to press keys in time with the backing music. What sets this game apart from rhythm games like Guitar Hero, is the level of choice the player has. With Guitar Hero, to score point you must play all the notes in time with the music. In Synaesthete, you can choose which notes to play, e.g. just the back beat, and your choice will effect which attacks you make. You can also simply explore the enviroment, avoiding the monsters.

What sets Synaesthete and Patapon (which we covered a couple of weeks ago), apart is that the rhythmic aspect of the game have been shifted from being the aim of the game to a simple game mechanic. The difference between these two points is subtle but important. In a traditional rhythm game, you score points by playing in time with the music so getting good at the rhythm is everything. When rhythm is reduced to a mechanic, the aim of the game is to explore the level, defeat the enemy tribe or rescue the princess. To do this the player has to learn rhythmic skills but these are combined with other skills and tactics in order to achieve the game’s objective.

Reducing the rhythmic element to the game to a mechanic makes the game more appealing to those with poor rhythmic skills. To use an analogy, if you asked people to learn to climb a cliff for the sake of climbing a cliff, some people would set out and learn how to climb because it looks fun. However, most will simply walk away because the reward for all that effort of learning to climb is not worth it. But, if you told people that hidden on the cliff face were a variety of prizes: money, computer games, cars etc, then far more people will learn to climb because of the rewards are worthwhile. Even people with a fear of heights would learn to climb if the prizes are ones that appeal to them. Climbing has now become a way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself.

This distinction is lost on many educational game makers. Take for for example the traditional game of Hangman. In this the objective is to spell / guess a word and it certainly helps develop language skills. But those with weak language skills, who would most benefit from it, will be put off. They are being asked to learn to climb, simply for the sake of climbing a cliff. To reach those who most need this help, the spelling aspect must be something they learn on the way to a goal that interests the child. For more why and how games attract and keep players, see Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun. For an strange looking word game (its not clear exactly how it works) from the IGF have a look at Poesysteme.

The next rhythm game from the IGF is Cinnamon Beats. Its a puzzle game more than a rhythm game but rhythm is a key ingredient. It is not available yet and hard to describe as I’ve not played it but it involves bouncing balls off musical instruments and other objects so that they make the right noise at the right time.

One last rhythm game is Fretnice. I cannot find much about it other than the game is controlled using the guitar’s from Guitar Hero. The limited blurb suggests its a rhythm game where you are “playing the game as if it was a rock song”. Watch this trailer:

Finally, there is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Its a puzzle game using 2d physics similar to Phun except whereas Phun is just a sandbox for experimentation, Crayon Physics is a game with an objective. It looks a great way to teach problem solving skills to young children.

All these games show the possibility of teaching skills through inventive game play. The holy grail is to develop a game that teaches something obviously useful (e.g. spelling) in such a way that even those with poor language skills will want to keep playing it long after the lesson has finished.