Friday, September 23, 2011
TABLET THERAPY: TOUCHSCREEN GAMES IMPROVE MENTAL AND PHYSICAL REHABILITATION
University researchers and occupational therapists across the nation are utilizing mobile game technology, made popular by widespread play on smartphones and tablets, as a critical therapeutic tool. These professionals are seeing real benefits in the use of touchscreen games for those with both physical and mental disabilities, including children with autism and cerebral palsy.
These disorders greatly impede motor functions and severely restrict social skills. To improve these deficiencies, therapists traditionally rely on repetitive physical exercises and behavioral learning. However, these practices often fall short of successfully equipping affected individuals with basic skills necessary for independent living. Today, academic researchers and software developers are working to create digital games for multi-touch devices that engage patients, and advance communication and physical learning, in a way that traditional methods cannot.
University of Iowa researchers developed several games that enable autistic children to interact with each other and recognize facial expressions. These games include a program requiring children to create stories verbally with their peers, while simultaneously collaborating to draw the stories on a touchscreen, and a program that teaches children how to understand emotions by manipulating an image of a face or cartoon character by dragging their fingers across a touchscreen. Similar multi-touch applications, such as TapSpeak's TapSpeak Choice 2.0 and Xcellent Creations'iConverse, help autistic children communicate to the world.TapSpeak allows users to record messages, download pictures, or use a text to speech function that supports 20 languages. iConverse functions as a picture exchange communication system, featuring six built-in communication tiles that represent an individual's most basic needs. Using a touchscreen, the icons provide both a visual and auditory representation of each specific need.
Touchscreen games also help patients with cerebral palsy improve motor functions. One such game, developed by researchers at Harvard University and called Catch the Butterflies, requires patients using touchscreen tables to control the position of a virtual butterfly jar by holding a rubber ball against the angled device. Patients practice capturing butterflies that appear on the screen by sliding them into the digital jar with the aid of a physical pen held in their other hand. Both programs improve reaction time and hand-eye coordination by requiring patients to repeatedly perform simple motor functions.
Patients can download many of these programs for free and use them on a variety of popular tablet devices, providing an accessible and cost-effective treatment option. Incorporating multi-touch technology in physical and communication rehabilitation offers an engaging way to enhance traditional treatments that ensures patients play an active role in advancing their health.