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Effectiveness of virtual reality using Wii gaming technology in children with Down syndrome

11 Apr

I’ve read a lot about the benefits of the iPad over the past year. And, yes, it is a very good thing to add to the arsenal of tools to help disabled people. But the iPad is not the only new technology gadget on the market, and this was made clear in an article: Effectiveness of virtual reality using Wii gaming technology in children with Down syndrome.

Yep. The Wii. Here is the abstract:

Effectiveness of virtual reality using Wii gaming technology in children with Down syndrome.

Wuang YP, Chiang CS, Su CY, Wang CC.

Department of Occupational Therapy, Kaohsiung Medical University, 100 Shih-Chuan 1st Road, Kaohsiung 807, Taiwan.

This quasi-experimental study compared the effect of standard occupational therapy (SOT) and virtual reality using Wii gaming technology (VRWii) on children with Down syndrome (DS). Children (n = 105) were randomly assigned to intervention with either SOT or VRWii, while another 50 served as controls. All children were assessed with measures of sensorimotor functions. At post-intervention, the treatment groups significantly outperformed the control group on all measures. Participants in the VRWii group had a greater pre-post change on motor proficiency, visual-integrative abilities, and sensory integrative functioning. Virtual reality using Wii gaming technology demonstrated benefit in improving sensorimotor functions among children with DS. It could be used as adjuvant therapy to other proven successful rehabilitative interventions in treating children with DS.

Here is a big section of the discussion section of the paper. Basically, Standard Occupational Therapy (SOT) helps Down Syndrome (DS) kids do better on fine and gross motor skills. Using Virtual Reality Wii seems to help even more. Gotta love that.

Of the two intervention groups, children who received VRWii therapy demonstrated the largest increase in post-intervention scores on the BOT-2 gross motor subtests. Significant improvement in gross motor function may be accounted for by the accumulated effects from a series of training steps that are structured, progressive, goal-directed, and interrelated. For instance, once the child initially learned to maintain equilibrium on VRWii Sports items, more challenging dynamic tasks such as jumping, striking and catching balls were introduced. VRWii could allow the child to interact with a computer-simulated environment and receive near real-time augmented feedback on performance. After mastering the VRWii tasks, the child was better able to use body feedback to understand the movement outcomes (feedback), anticipate upcoming events (feedforward), and plan alternative strategies (Brooks, 1986). Simultaneously, the child was encouraged to rely more on internal feedback and self-evaluation of performance than external feedback from others and environment. By adjusting the difficult level of Wii Sport items, more mature patterns of motor control emerged from better use of feedback and feedforward mechanisms.

The VRWii group achieved the greatest progress primarily in the BOT-2 fine motor subtests as well. A probable explanation is that success with skilled fine motor tasks relies upon sophisticated motor control and higher-level motor planning. The nature of VRWii therapy promotes an optimal sensory intake by allowing the child to actively explore and organize diverse sensory inputs. An overall improved organization of sensory input may subsequently enhance motor planning and sequencing ability, thereby leading to the improvement in fine motor skills (Humphries, Wright, Snider, & McDougall, 1992). In addition, the improvement in hand function also depended on the child’s ability to modify the patterns of grasping Wii handle according to the different somatosensory input from diverse VRWii Sport items. An essential component of all extremities movements experienced in VRWii Sports is proactive visual and somatosensory control ([Augurelle et al., 2003], Jeannerod, 1986 M. Jeannerod, The formation of finger grip during prehension: A cortically mediated visuomotor pattern, Behavior and Brain Research 19 (1986), pp. 99–116. Abstract | PDF (1331 K) | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (130)[Jeannerod, 1986] and [Jeannerod, 1990]), which is responsible for the correct execution of limb movement and the coordination between limbs and vision ([Johansson, 1996] and [Whitney and Wrisley, 2004]). Therefore, tasks involved with visual motor integration of VMI and BOT-2 were also improved by VRWii.

Unexpectedly, the VRWii group alone demonstrated larger increase in all TSIF subtest scores post intervention than SOT that included sensory integration therapy. This result offers direct evidence that children with DS are able to benefit from VRWii therapy to optimize the integrated processing of sensory cues and motor responses. VRWii itself could provide constant opportunities for children to integrate visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive inputs. In particular, significant gains in emotion and behavior subtest of the TSIF after VRWii intervention implies that the playfulness inherent in the VRWii items was able to tap into the children’s inner drive to engage with VRWii therapy. By actively participating in the goal-directed and enjoyable activities, the therapeutic effects could be maximized ([Larin, 2000] and [Parham and Mailloux, 2010]), and the psychosocial needs of children were fulfilled as well (Tye & Tye, 1992). The principle of Wii by using self-initiation, meaningful, and challenging activities in increasing neural plasticity coincided with the principles of sensory integration theory proposed by Ayres ([Ayres, 1972] and [Jacobs and Schenider, 2001]).

Autism community need to learn lesson

22 May

As is accepted by most rational people, autism is a largely genetic difference, albeit with a likely environmental component. Over the last 10 years or so a seemingly increasingly irrational desire to blame vaccines for causing autism has been coupled with a similarly irrational ‘cure at all cost’ mentality. The subsequent parent driven engine has resulted in autistic kids being exposed to shysters, snake oil salesman and out and out quacks selling their own version on dangerous exploitation.

However, in a revealing picture of what the ‘cure at all cost’ mentality might be doing not only to autistic people but to the human race in general we could do no worse than to look at recent discoveries in another genetic based difference – Down Syndrome:

A gene that’s present in the extra chromosome people with Down syndrome protects this population from getting many types of cancers, according to a study published in the journal Nature Wednesday.


The answer lies in a gene called Dscr1, which is one of the genes present in Down syndrome causing chromosome 21. Since people with Down syndrome have an extra copy of this chromosome, they also have an extra copy of Dscr1. Researchers studied the gene in mice with human cells and found that it limits the growth of blood vessels that tumors feed on.

All the years that people with Down Syndrome have taken abuse, been put down and – most ironically of all – had pre-natal testing performed that has resulted in a drop of Down’s babies. And now it seems they might hold the key to destroying at least some forms of cancer. Imagine if we only found that out after the last Down’s adult had died?

Imagine what we might find out if we start looking at research that works _with_ autistic people. Imagine what we might lose if we decide to plow ahead with a ‘cure at all cost’ mentality.

A greater acceptance

24 Nov

“I don’t subscribe to the notion of the ‘perfect human being’ and found the idea of selecting one child in preference to another abhorrent.”

A survey by the Down’s Syndrome Association reports on how the parents of Down’s kids have elected to parent rather than abort their children in increasing numbers.

Following the introduction of screening for Down’s syndrome in 1989, the number of babies born with the condition steadily fell from 717 to just 594 at the start of this decade.

Since 2000 the birth rate has increased, reaching 749 births of children with Down’s syndrome by 2006, the latest year for which figures are available.

The increase is down to knowing somebody with Down’s, religious or anti-abortion beliefs feeling life had improved for people with Down’s. I ain’t going to get into a pro-life debate (I’m not, I’m pro-choice, end of.) but I am *immensely* encouraged to see that some parents can act rationally and with thoughts for their children first and foremost.

Initial results show that 25 per cent said they already knew people with Down’s syndrome or other disabilities and that had influenced their decision to continue with the pregnancy. Thirty-five per cent said they felt life and society had improved for people with Down’s syndrome. Surprisingly almost half of those questioned said they did not think they would have a child with Down’s syndrome and that’s why they continued.

Most respondents said they felt supported by their family and friends.

One respondent said: “I don’t subscribe to the notion of the ‘perfect human being’ and found the idea of selecting one child in preference to another abhorrent.”

Another said: “I already felt a strong sense of responsibility for my unborn child and knew that I would love it and want it regardless of any additional needs it might have. I knew I could count on friends and family for support.”

This would seem to be the winning mentality of the ethos espoused by the DSA, their aims being:

We provide information and support for people with Down’s syndrome, their families and carers, and the professionals who work with them.
We strive to improve knowledge of the condition.
We champion the rights of people with Down’s syndrome.

We can only hope that one day, the same sort of autism-friendly results come about. Certainly it won’t be any time soon if those who represent autism as a soulless condition in need of nothing but cure continue to prattle on in factless books.

More power to you all DS community.

McCain courts the autism vote

16 Oct

If you watched the U.S. presidential debates tonight, you heard the “A” word a few times. Yep, Autism.

Senator McCain, who tripped up early in the campaign by giving credence to the thimerosal debate (and, yes, tripped up is accurate since he backed away fast from that stance), is courting the Autism community’s vote.

In discussing his running mate’s credentials to be president (should Mr. McCain for some reason stop being president), Mr. McCain stated:

She’ll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we’ve got to find out what’s causing it, and we’ve got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I’m proud of her.

I wish Mr. McCain had more contact over time with the disability community. “She understands that better than almost any American I know”…I guess since she has a child with special needs and a young relative with autism, she has some experience, but wouldn’t it be nice if Senator McCain knew someone in the autism research community? (a guy can dream, can’t he?)

Actually, I really liked the way Senator Obama brought this back to one of his themes in his reply:

I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about.

And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we’re not going to be able to do it. That’s an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we’re funding some of those programs.

For those who didn’t watch, there was discusssion earlier in the debate about a Senator McCain’s proposal for a spending freeze. Senator Obama made the point clear: cut smart, not blindly.

That said, I also liked how Senator Obama brought in the entire disability community. Yes, it was still child focused, but he did talk about “other special needs”.

I like how he sees research as a priority.

Senator McCain later stated:

And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children — precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we’ll find and we’ll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we’ll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.

I wonder how many autistic adults were in his audiences? I wonder how many people with other disabilities (or family members with other disabilities) were in the audience.

Senator McCain may have thought that he was winning my vote, but he just lost it. Yes, disability issues, especially autism, play a role in my choice. But, this looks too much like pandering to the vaccine-autism crowd while doing the politician’s two-step around the sticky details.

I.e. it was “let’s use code words about the epidemic and vaccines to gather votes”.

I really hope I am wrong, but that was my read.

Senator Obama’s response really did speak to me, though. Focusing on funding research–and research for other conditions besides autism–spoke to goals that match mine, rather than an attempt to buy my vote.

The Los Angeles Times has a full transcript of the debate already.

Also, AutismStreet gathers his thoughts and types faster than I. There is a good treatment of this subject there.

here’s a taste:

She understands that autism is on the rise? Really? Can she clearly convey the distinction between more diagnoses, and an actual increase in prevalence? Does she understand diagnostic substitution? What about the broadening criteria and the changes in the very definition of autism? Does she really understand this? Or, is McCain pandering and simply parroting anti-vaccination and anti-autism advocate fundraisers’ “autism epidemic” rhetoric?

[added material]

I want to repeat: I really hope I am wrong about Senator McCain. Even if he loses the presidential bid, he is a Senator and someone we need to help in the probable lean years ahead–and beyond.

Seeing the obvious

19 Aug

Two months ago I passed the half decade mark in running a blog about autism. I hoped when I started that I would be able to document my autistic child’s progress as xe developed and grew.

Somehow, through the efforts of others I got sidetracked. I no longer feel comfortable about blogging about xyr and that is nothing but a damn shame but it is still a reality. My wife is scared by the invective and hatred she reads in some people who disagree with me and we have an agreement now that I will not mention by gender or name any of my children.

This runs directly counter to my philosophy of trying to raise awareness of the good that can be available to parents and families of autistic people. Of the fun times – and there are many of them – as well as the heartbreaking times (and there are some of them too). I feel frustrated and angry that I have been forced by the irresponsible actions of others to not talk about the good thing I see in my life with autism. Maybe that was their reason for doing it. Who knows.

So, it was lovely this morning to see a story in my newsreader from someone who could see the good things. Who could see the obvious. Someone who chose to see the glass as half full.

The music was being performed live by two female artist of exceptional talent. Their music was sort of 70´s and 80s. They even took the risk of performing a Barry White Song, “My first , My Last, My everything” (I´m not sure that´s the real title), and they shocked me with how well they complemented his music. People were dancing. Old people and young people, but is was the “special” people who caught my eye; The down Syndrome people. They danced to the music and seemed so filled with the joy of the moment that it was contagious. I found myself dancing with them in my mind. They were laughing and moving, touching each other and their partners right at the moment when a spin or a turn was dictated by the music. As I watched I could not help but think of my own grandson, Anthony Adame, who is Autistic.

So maybe this writers choice of words wouldn’t be mine but there is no mistaking the vision of someone _who got it_ .

As I watched the crowd I noted many who looked upon these special people with sympathy and sorrow for them and their families. I know the look. I have often seen it while in the company of my own grandson Anthony. Only few ever intentionally mean to offend. Most simply do not understand the nature and condition of Down Syndrome, or Autistic people. They do not know the joy that many of these very special people have in their lives, or the wonder of living with, or being close to one of them.

Those words could’ve been lifted right out of my heart and mind. The joy is there. It exists. There is a choice that we can make as parents – do we fight a psuedo-war? A war which is simply psychological transference? Or do we see the fact that autistic (or Down Sydrome or Tourettes or Manic Depressive) people can see and experience happiness and bring joy to their families?

This isn’t a matter of religious style happiness. You don’t have to join hands with the world, hug a tree and sing Kumbya. Its really the simplest thing in the world. Its saying ‘my life is not like most peoples. I have hardship beyond what most do. My choices are limited. But look at the joy that my child/friend/grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin/child of a blogger from far away brings! Should I turn away from that? Or should I choose to participate in it?’

Its obvious isn’t it?

Neurological diversity

28 May

It is a common tactic of some people who believe that autism should be cured at all costs to state that ‘the neurodiverse’ are a small minority of adults with Aspergers Syndrome, intent on preserving themselves at the expense of their ‘low functioning’ cousins.

Take a recent post from Harold Doherty railing against Andrew Solomon’s piece in New York Magazine:

The Alleged Autism Rights Movement isn’t much help for the severely autistic, the truly severely autistic….. like my son Conor who wondered (sic) across a busy main street oblivious to the dangers of traffic; or those like the 10 year old severely autistic boy in North Carolina who was struck by a train and killed Saturday half an hour after police received a report he was missing from his home. [Or] like the 50 year old autistic woman who could not communicate to tell the world she was being abused by staff in the residential care facility in which she lives in Long Island…

The sad fact is that, if Harold Doherty would allow himself to see it, no-one from ‘neurodiversity’ is suggesting that people like his son, the 10 year old boy he describes or the 50 year old woman he describes, should not be helped to the fullest possible extent. The trouble is, that Harold (and people who hold similar views) are so caught up in what they _think_ they never actually _see_ . The other fact is that the basic tenet of neurodiversity as _I_ understand the term is that people like Conor Doherty deserve respect. The whole ‘cure’ thing is a fairly trivial side issue. Respect is what comes first.

There is no cure for autism. Does this mean then, that we should not fight for the rights of autistic people of _all_ ages, abilities and expressions? That because they are not neurotypical they do not have rights? or deserve respect?

_That_ is what (to me and I think to very many people) neurodiversity is about. Take Alex Barton – the five year old voted out of his class. That is a _lack_ of respect. There is absolutely no justification for that teacher to behave in that way toward a five year old child. Neurodiversity says ‘this little autistic boy deserves to be treated as if he were the same as anyone else in terms of his right to belong’. I fear that some people who call themselves autism advocates think the problem is easily remedied by curing Alex Barton’s autism (hypothetically of course). I think that that entirely misses the point. People used to look for cures for homosexuality – that was wrong too. The _person who is autistic_ deserves as much of a chance to be judged for who they are with their own set of unique abilities, shortcomings and character as the person who is not.

Does this mean we should ‘leave the autistic child as he/she is’? Of course not! That is the largest of red herrings. If someone cannot communicate, you help them communicate. If someone cannot use the toilet, you help them to learn.

And then, when they have reached the upper limit of the potential for learning on each of these subjects, you accept that that is who they are. For some, that might mean they can now speak. For some it might mean they can barely use one Makaton sign. The _amount_ they have learnt is not the measure of how much respect they deserve. They deserve respect regardless. So we must all work to make the environment safer for young autistic children. We must all work harder to make autistic adults living arrangements safe. These are basic human rights.

It should also be noted that, far from being an autism related term, neurodiversity touches on a whole range of things. Of course, they’re not all called ‘neurodiversity’ but well….

Are voices a symptom of illness or a variety of human experience?

Research has shown that there are many people who hear voices, some of whom cope with their voices well without psychiatric intervention, it has also been found that there are many people who hear voices who can cope with their voices and regard them as a positive part of their lives. Neither is it the case that voices have always been regarded as a negative experience.

Throughout history and even today there are people who hear voices who find their voices inspirational and comforting. These are facts that on the face of it are hard to square with the extremely negative way that the experience is regarded by psychiatry. The researchers, practitioners and involved voice hearers believe it is mistaken to regard voice hearing as part of a psychopathic disease syndrome. Rather, they consider it to be more akin to a variation in human experience – if you like, a faculty or differentiation – something like homosexuality, that it is definitely not open to cure.

Thats taken from a page on Hearing Voices from the Mental Health Foundation. I would suggest that you go read that entire page. Like neurodiversity, some members of the hearing voices community acknowledge that their condition (or the condition of a loved one) can be disabling and distressing. However, they all realise that their can be a unique benefit and comfort in knowing who they are. They believe that who they are can be best expressed as a variation in human experience.

A little closer to home (for me anyway), there is something called Mad Pride which is a movement again neurodiversity in all but name. Its a loose conglomeration of self advocates who are (or have been) diagnosed with mental illness:

About 5.7 million Americans over 18 have bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Another 2.4 million have schizophrenia, which is considered a thought disorder. The small slice of this disparate population who have chosen to share their experiences with the public liken their efforts to those of the gay-rights and similar movements of a generation ago.

Just as gay-rights activists reclaimed the word queer as a badge of honor rather than a slur, these advocates proudly call themselves mad; they say their conditions do not preclude them from productive lives.

The people in all these movements are autistic, manic depressives, schizophrenics, tourettes and many more. None of us deny the bad things that being the way we are can bring. But we do not believe that the fact that we are the way we are means that we are second-class or fodder for nothing more than quack therapies and misplaced pity.

All these peoples – and many more – are the neurologically diverse. The Neurodiverse. Belonging to neither nation, nor politics but simply belonging to the simple idea that everyone is _not_ equal but everyone can advocate best for themselves if supported and respected:

“Broken down it means ‘speaking for yourself’, ‘communicating in other ways’, but it’s personal. For me it means that I can speak for myself. It means I’ve got a voice and even without a voice I can communicate in other ways. It means yes and no- most important- ‘No, I don’t want tea, I want coffee, I don’t want sugar’- all the things we take for granted. It means people must listen to me, I can take a risk, I can have a relationship, that can be hard. I can think for myself, I can go to the shop with support and if I need help, people can help me….

Jackie Downer, Down’s Syndrome Self Advocate.