For 13-year-old Zachary Rose, simple playtime can bring out a smile as wide as the sun.
What comes easy to most kids is challenging for Zachary. He and his younger brother Benjamin have autism spectrum disorder.
But for Zachary, there are even more challenges.
"Right now, we are working on potty training, and they are 11 and 13, so that kind of puts it in perspective," Rob tells us. "Zachary also has trouble eating and communicating at school and home."
So twice a week, Rob brings both boys to Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay.
"We wanted to get him to learn some new behaviors, so he could be acclimated a bit better with society."
Jamie Granatino, Clinical Director of the center says, "A lot of our kids come in not having effective ways to communicate their wants and needs and that can lead to a lot of problem behavior. Children get frustrated when they're not effectively able to tell us what they need."
Zachary's one-on-one sessions include app-based video games on the iPad.
Games like Spelling Mix, Starfall and Math Ninja combine fun and learning. They mix intriguing visuals and changing audio cues with repetition.
"It's really exciting to see how it engages these children," Jamie Granatino said.
Behavioral Consulting has even found apps like Disney Story Time and Angry Birds appear to have impact.
"I had one client who had an Angry Birds birthday party, and to see how excited they get. They recognize the characters and go to show and tell and bring the toys that their peers would," Jamie says.
But there may be a down side. Some question whether kids like Zachary can spend too much time in front of a screen.
"I do not believe it's a cure at all," says Dr. Eric Storch, a psychologist with University of South Florida Health.
He's cautious, since studies show children with autism play video games more frequently than their siblings.
"There's a risk that these games might be very appealing to kids, and result in kids playing the games excessively at the risk of the expense of other activities that might be more helpful."
Also at the expense of activities that involve social interaction.
"I think this is one piece of the puzzle, to make sure our kids can be successful and happy people," he said.
"The improvements that we've seen because of the therapy here has been spectacular."
Beyond games Zachary's now using the iPad daily. He responds to questions by typing the answer, and when he hits "speak," the iPad talks for him.
"The outside world doesn't want a hug and a kiss or a shake. He's able to type in his response and communicate, which 10 years ago, he wouldn't have been able to do that," Rob says with a smile.
It all seems to be unlocking a new world for Zachary, making his future brighter with the help of the technology in his hands.
"The technology has allowed us to see into his personality. He's a funny little kid with a sense of humor. It's allowed him, to laugh," Rob says. "Ten years from now? Google Glasses, a watch? The kid could be communicating in full sentences! We celebrate that the technology keeps moving ahead...they really do grab hold of this new technology, and take in ways we'd never expect."
Some say Wii and Xbox Connect games might help higher functioning patients. In moderation, Dr. Storch says the games have an added benefit in helping mainstream autism disorder students to socially interact with their peers.
But for Zachary, his father says, cheaper, simpler apps seem to have the biggest impact.
FROM BEHAVIORAL CONSULTING OF TAMPA BAY:
BCOTB uses specifically for Zachary is Abilipad for writing and Spelling Mix which is a "game."
Also, below is a list of 10 apps BCOTB has found useful as educational, communication, behavior management or used as reinforcers.
• Youtube.com - entertainment
• Starfall.com - educational entertainment
• Angry Birds Friends by Rovio Entertainment Ltd - entertainment
• Fruit Ninja by Halfbrick Studios - entertainment
• Math Ninja HD Free! by Razeware LLC - educational entertainment
• Disney Storytime by Disney - entertainment
• Injini: Child Development Game Suite by NCSOFT - educational entertainment
• iEarnedThat by Kidoc, LLC - behavior management - for parents or professionals to contract with children
• obansys Free by Mangold International GmbH - data collection tool
• Proloquo2go - communication (only recommended for children not capable of spoken word or sign)
Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay: http://bcotb.com/
USF Health: Dr. Eric Storch: http://health.usf.edu/medicine/pediatrics/profile.html?person_id=62245
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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