Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wii Would Like To Play...

Over the past year, in particular, we have been trying to help J - now 7 years old - to find some physical activities he enjoys. J, like many autistic people, has a limited range of foods that he eats. Though we do what we can to enhance the nutritional value of his diet, and we have employed numerous strategies to reduce the gag-reflex that accompanies so many different kinds of food, J simply does not, at this age, have an ideal diet. J's limited diet issues are exacerbated by another tendency, or characteristic, that it seems to me is also quite common amongst autistics, and that is that he prefers cerebral pursuits to physical activities. We recognize the importance of leading a healthful life in terms of impact on physical as well as emotional well-being, and have therefore been "signing up" J for a range of activities.

Over the past year, these activities have included Tee-ball. This was not a big hit (please ignore the obnoxious pun), though it is difficult to determine exactly why J never seemed to get into it. I can say that his younger brother, T, on the same team, also did not derive a lot of pleasure or interest from it. It may be an age thing. In the summer, we enrolled J in Tae Kwan Do. There, we definitely found something to his liking. The more individual nature of it, as well as the rigidity of the routines and the "demanding" nature of the instruction seems to really jibe with J's mentality. In the Fall, J joined a soccer team. This had mixed results - he enjoyed the practices due to some of the practice games we would play (i.e. Sharks and Minnows), but during games it was not uncommon for him to simply lie down in the middle of the action. The ultra-bright mornings were not ideal for him in terms of light sensitivity, and he could often be found during his "breaks" from action reading thick books in the foldup chair on the sideline instead of cheering his teammates on. Aside from these structured activities, J fully enjoys games like "Monster Tag" and wrestling with Daddy. And he loves a day at the beach, something we can do with regularity during the summer now that he is over his aversion to the movement of the waves. Surfing is definitely on the slate for the little grommet this summer (maybe Dad can learn a little too!). He also loves to swim in our pool, and has been involved in a therapeutic horsemanship program for over three years.
So at this point - at age 7 - J's physical activity and nutritional intake is a mixed-bag at best, and certainly could use some "catching up" to his pretty remarkable academic achievements.

Enter Wii Fit.

When I first read about the Wii Fit and its remarkable balance board, I knew it would be a perfect match for J and the way he derives enjoyment from his activities. As I write this blog, J and his two brothers are around the corner engaging with the Wii system and working up a good sweat doing it!

You see, the Wii Fit allows J - and everyone in the family - to create a Mii, which is a little on-screen mini-me of each of us. Once created, you step on the board and the system takes your height and weight and establishes a baseline BMI (body mass index). It also measures your overall balance and body posture. It then allows you to set short or long term fitness goals, specifically addressing the areas you would like.
Once you have completed the setup, it records your time spent in the "time bank", and also regularly re-weighs and tests balance, updating your progress vs. goals.
The player then picks aerobic (running, hula hoops), strength training, balance activities (ski slalom, ski long jump), and yoga for posture. The more you play, the more different games you unlock.
All of these features are precisely conducive to J's unique way of learning. First of all, it is engaging without being overly demanding from a social standpoint (unlike team sports). It is unforgivingly rigid in its repetitive nature - it behaves the same way each time. This avoids J's sometime-anxiety about variable things. It has clear, easy-to-understand goals, which play to J's learning style. It disguises physical activity in what seems more of a cerebral pursuit with the use of points, stars, levels of achievement, and gradual unlocking of new activities. Frankly, it is an ideal method for J to improve his physical fitness. Interestingly, since beginning this (at Christmas), J has expressed a higher level of interest in eating more healthfully (even though this does not overcome his extreme sensitivity to certain foods and the way they elicit his gag reflex).

I realize that not all autistic children or adults have would be able to play Wii Fit. I also realize that not all families or individuals can own or access one. But the bottom line is this: I can't recommend the Wii Fit highly enough for any individual who would like to help them self or a loved one to improve their physical well-being in a fun and positive way!


codeman38 said...

I got Wii Fit for Christmas. And I've discovered that my sense of balance is...about as bad as I thought it was. :-)

Sharon said...

Hi Steve

It's interesting to read about this. We've got a Wii but Duncan has never shown much interest in it. I think that he would like the Wii fit board though. Like J, he eats a limited diet and doesn't do sport. He's very strong and skinny and runs about a lot, but he might like the rigorously repetitive features too.

As an aside, I'm sorry about the links to my posts that turn up below your posts. It's this blogger widget I use showing my favourite blogs by posting date. I like the feature and use it to read posts and to (hopefully) highlight brilliant blogs to others, but I don't know why it creates all these links back to my blog.

Niksmom said...

Alas, we're in the non-Wii owning group right now. I don't know if Nik would enjoy it as he's not really into videos or TV now. He's definitely a race around at the park kind of kid. But I'd love to try it with him for these cold winter days when the ground is wet from this infernal rain! Maybe I should see if his PT or OT has a system we can try?

Heck, I'd like to try it for myself as I hear great things from other adults! :-)

jypsy said...

Tee-ball.... we enrolled Alex when he was about J's age. Pretty much the same response including literally "stealing 2nd base" and throwing it in the bushes.
We took the hint.

Wii.... Aspie son got the very first one sold on PEI. He spent the night in line, decorated the show's step with chalk graffiti, Nintendo themed, including a sign in list that kept everything fair and everyone in order (much appreciated by the store staff, the graffiti washed away in the next rain and the mob was all orderly. In fact, he seemed to be having so much fun, I joined him later on that evening and spent the night, buying a 2nd Wii that we flipped on eBay the next day thus paying for the 1st one.
On his 21st birthday in Dec. we got Alex Mario & Sonic's Olympic game. Alex's little Mii's outfit matches the yellow shirt Alex is so famous for! He's been working up quite a sweat with that game too and when he set a world record high jump he had no trouble spitting out the stats for me on whose record he'd just broken, what it was, where they were from...
A while back we had the loan of Rock Band for a day. Alex loved it - the singing part. He likes karaoke. I looked into the American Idol games but not only are the songs too recent for his liking (he'd prefer the more classic rock choices of Rock Band) but the judges would ruin it for him I think. Listen to him speak and then imagine him singing and then imagine what Simon would have to say.... would kinda take the fun out.
He can afford to buy himself Rock Band if he really wants it. I really enjoyed the day we had it here, listening to him belt out some good old tunes.

As for diet... Alex always had a limited diet but he did manage to cover all the food groups (if only using pizza to cover any missed ones). Running seems to have fully expanded it in the last 4 years. One reason is because once a year we attend the RoadRunner's banquet where he is faced with salad and meat, potatoes & vegies (meat wasn't a favourite and the vegies often included turnip). For whatever reason he not only tried everything but ate it. The second reason, and the thing that seems to have permanently put meat on his menu was my mom telling him, when we were visiting her and he was ignoring the pork chop on his plate, "eat it Alex, it's good for you and will make you run faster".
Now the only things he won't eat are lobster (ok, actually we don't offer it to him, all the more for us guys!), trout (I think he ran into one too many bones) and my paella (he was sick after eating it the first time he had it, I wonder if he may be allergic to shrimp). Oh.. and add iced green tea to that - he poured himself a glass thinking it was juice the other day and was not at all impressed!
Granted the diet thing took about 18 years to fully round out but I can now, for the most part, prepare one meal, whatever it is, for the entire family, and that's quite a treat for someone who hates cooking to begin with.
And one of his last holdouts, pasta, is now regular Friday night (pre-race day) fare during race season (April - November).

Paul Leader said...

Hi there,

I run the site and I've been covering the use of the Wii and Wii Fit in physiotherapy for some months, but this is the first time I've come across someone using it to help kids with autism. It's great to see it have such a positive affect on your son.

Nintendo seem to have built something that is so much more than just a games console. People are using it to help all sorts of people, old folks, crash victims, the physically disabled.

All the best to you and J.


Steve D said...

@ codeman - Me too!
@ Sharon - Sure, all of our kids like different things. But I do recommend trying the balance board (if it doesn't unbalance your budget!). And don't apologize for the links - I am not a strong SEO guy, but I think it helps both of us to have those links in place. Also, its an honor to be linked by the Best Parenting Blog in Ireland, and such a great thinker in our community.
@ Niksmom - You'd love it! Its fun.
@ Jypsy - We'll try little league again, but we aren't of a mind to push J into something that he won't actively engage or enjoy. Alex sure turned out to be an exercise demon, didn't he?
@ Paul - Thanks for your comment. I agree that Wii can help all kinds of people. Unfortunately, the autism community is the 'target' of a lot of scams. In an effort to keep Wii from being touted as some sort of "cure" for autism, it is important that we keep the conversation on things we know it can actually help with (increased physical activity) and emphasize that it is a fun game.