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Michigan Program Uses Gaming to Improve Language of Teenagers with Autism

Posted by Brian Spence on Jul 5, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Autism, Behavioral Health, HealthcareEvery year, American physicians diagnose one in 59 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the Child Mind Institute, ASD is a developmental issue marked by social and communication deficits. Boys are 3 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.

An American facility has developed a fun way to help teens with autism improve their language skills. At Michigan Medicine's Theory of Mind Gaming Program, autistic children play board games to sharpen their communication and social abilities.

Why Autistic Patients Undergo Speech Therapy

ASD is a collection of disorders whose symptoms vary in severity. The conditions include autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder (CD), and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Autism impacts patients' speech and language development areas. An autistic person may display such behaviors as:

  • Poor communication
  • Uttering cries, yells, or grunts (in place of words)
  • Babbling in word-like tones
  • Using an unexpressive, robotic speech
  • Echolalia (parroting or repeating other sounds)
  • Humming in a musical way.

About one in three people with ASD have communication challenges and difficulties making eye contact. They can memorize conversations they've had without understanding its meaning. Speech therapy improves patients' language skills and their ability to understand social cues.

Gaming Helps Autistic Teens Learn New Perspectives

The teenagers attend sessions at The C.S. Mott Children Hospital's Speech-Language Pathology Program. Philip Menard is the center's senior speech-language pathologist and director.

"We have teenagers play games to help them learn perspective-taking," Menard said during a video interview. Perspective-taking helps teens perceive concepts from someone else's point of view.

The center uses ToM to evaluate autistic teens' cognitive abilities. ToM is a cognitive component of empathy, according to Best Practice Autism. Those with ToM deficits, like autism patients, have an inability to understand others' thoughts and emotions. The games enable teens to identify social cues in different situations.

"As director of the program, what I'm looking is a good balance between the kids having fun, but being challenged in a way [that's] reflective on their own understanding of the situation," Menard said.

The director says he's excited when the program's teens learn how to become responsible and contribute to society. The games also sensitize the teens to the world around them.

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