Tablet Games Trump Traditional Therapy in Treating Autism and Cerebral Palsy

Illustration for article titled Tablet Games Trump Traditional Therapy in Treating Autism and Cerebral Palsy

For decades the traditional therapy for adults and children afflicted with autism and cerebral palsy have remained the same: repetitive activities aimed at hammering home the social and physical skills these disorders make difficult for those afflicted. That's all changing, thanks to multi-touch tablet technology.


Today's multi-touch technology has given researchers the ability to develop low-cost applications with the potential to engage suffers of autism, cerebral palsy, and other developmental disabilities much faster and in some cases more effectively than the traditional methods of treatment.

Take the case of 10-year-old autistic boy Griffin Wajda. Like many autism sufferers, Griffin has problems with communication and other basic social interactions. Utilizing an interactive storytelling tool created by researchers at the University of Iowa, Griffin builds interactive stories with his brother, taking turns drawing on a tablet computer to add to the narrative. He tells his mother what he's doing is "summer school."


While there's still room for the repetitive social exercises normally utilized in the treatment of autism, the tablet app represents a new angle from which to attack the disorder.

It's the same sort of new approach that's aiding researchers in multiple institutions in developing game applications that augment the repetitive physical therapy undergone by those suffering from cerebral palsy and other physical debilitations.

During Harvard's test trials last fall, children with cerebral palsy played "Catch the Butterflies" on Microsoft Surface touch-screen tables by holding a rubber ball to the angled surface to control the position of a virtual butterfly jar. Using a stylus in the other hand, they "captured" butterflies flitting about on the screen and slid them into the jar. A device the children wore recorded the tilt of their torsos and disrupted the game when they tried to compensate for their limited range of arm motion by leaning in toward the screen.

Not only do these tablet applications engage patients more effectively than traditional therapy, they also allow therapists to gather more accurate data than ever before, recording reaction times down to the millisecond.

On top of all of these other benefits, these tablet programs can be distributed at a much lower cost. Take Proloquo2Go, a $189.99 iTunes application that allows users with speech-affecting disorders to communicate by taking their text and picture input and putting it into words. It's one of the priciest apps I've come across, but nothing compared to the thousands of dollars in software and computer equipment normally required to affect such solutions. Some researchers even release their work for free, simply to make sure the right tools get into the right hands.

"We've been doing these [traditional] therapies for 30 to 40 years with little or no change," said (occupational therapist Quentin) Ranson in Alberta. "But we're at a real turning point in our profession" with the use of multi-touch technology.

Illustration for article titled Tablet Games Trump Traditional Therapy in Treating Autism and Cerebral Palsy

Playing on a Tablet as Therapy [The Wall Street Journal (Subscription Required)]

You can contact Michael Fahey, the author of this post, at You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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not a single comment eh? Glad to see people are only interested in games for themselves and not how it's actually used to better the world. Oh well, I'll start.

I own a small business caring for CP and severely mentally retarded patients, and before that I worked years in a special needs-exclusive school. The editor is right - these applications are way over-priced, and they're sold to superintendents who are like 80 years old and don't know quality of computer programs, let alone know how much they should be valued at.

In return, these cost upwards of $1000 for a single program than you could probably find for free for use in flash.

Sadly, news like this doesn't get to the closeminded principals and superintendents around the world - yet - and until then, they'll continue to pay large sums of cash to seemingly entry-level developers with psychology and therapy skills, and virtually no idea how to make a program.

Here's to this catching on in the coming years! Clink!