We’re having a heat wave…. but not a tropical heat wave.


School has ended. We unfortunately lost our older dog, Chessie, to a brain tumor. I won’t get into the specifics because it will make everyone cry, but I just wanted to explain my further delay in writing.

I’ve found as much as I wanted to do YouTube reviews, I cannot stand watching myself to edit them. I have no issues talking about games or answering questions, but I cannot spend hours editing myself. So for sanity purposes, I will rarely be posting videos.

As the daily temperatures are over 100, we cannot spend much time outside. So, [insert] indoor activities including gaming. A year ago, I did a blog on the benefits of video gaming in special needs communities. I said then I would do a review of older systems like the Nintendo Wii, the Sony PlayStation Move, and the Microsoft Kinect. I meant to do this in the height of the pandemic, but a heat wave seems like a good time, as well. (Due to the number of tables in this blog, I strongly suggest viewing this on a computer or in computer mode. I know all the lines are off in mobile version. It works okay on my husband’s android, and not well on iphone).

Why review old systems?

These systems were made with movements in mind using the TV screen. Unlike the newer switch, these were more durable… they were just built to last. Because they are older, if you go to a retro gaming store, you will often find these systems and games more affordable, which is a necessity for families with special needs kiddos.

I have owned all three.

Wii

Nintendo Wii

Pros:

  • Can be used for rehab/therapy
  • Low cost, everything is a set
  • Gamification of motor rehab
  • Bluetooth capabilities
  • Lots of cool accessories… sports and car shaped ones… all sold separately
  • Can download retro Nintendo games for it…

Cons:

  • Not suitable for all conditions, requires hand use.
  • Requires calibration for every player
  • Large amount of titles appropriate for children
  • Base set doesn’t work well for full body movement, can be fooled and play while laying down and use like a remote control
  • The Wii remote uses infrared lighting and detection on the bar… its similar to the same technology as modern tv remotes (think Roku, they often use IR) and sometimes you push the button several times because of interference. This means basic interface… up, down, left, right sensors.

My personal experience with this was I could never get the sensor quite right. I was constantly having to re-calibrate it. We were largely not able to enjoy the more physically oriented games on it, and ended up playing some MySims games on it, thinking we needed to get used to the controllers. After beating those at 100% (while laying down with our arms propped on pillows because pointing the controller at the TV was never at the correct angle…) we decided to sell the system. Unless you get it to play old Nintendo games, I cannot recommend it for physical activity, especially a special needs kid. I want to foster enjoyment and independence, not frustration.

When I had mine, they didn’t have recharging stations for the controllers, I used rechargeable batteries. You are expected to change the batteries… constantly. The battery life didn’t last long with them.

Some people swear by the Wii… others have tried the other 2 I’m about to talk about and don’t look back…

PlayStation Move

Sony PlayStation Move, PS3 version

Pros:

  • Rechargeable controllers, either plug into the system while it is on or use a charging station! 10 hour battery.
  • The PS Eye (camera) can locate the glowing orb in a 3D space, meaning not only can it tell where you are left and right, up and down, it can tell how close or far away you are.
  • High precision and accuracy
  • Rumble pack for player feedback
  • Unique accessories, all sold separately.
  • Compatibility: the Move controllers work on the PS3, the PS4, and the PS VR. (This means they’re not obsolete).

Cons:

  • Requires a PS3 or PS4
  • Sold separately from the PS console.
  • The PS Eye camera is not compatible across platforms, make sure you get the correct one for your console.
  • Joystick controller sold separately
  • Few games available outside of the use of “for the sake of gaming”

I thoroughly enjoy the Move. We have the joystick controller and the Wonderbook to go along with it. There are not enough Wonderbook titles, IMHO.

Here is a list of our favorite therapy friendly Move games:

Game:

Book of Spells

What is it?

Specs:

Physicality:

You are a student at Hogwarts and attend spell classes. Your controller is your wand and the Wonderbook is your spell book.

Solo play

10+, 7 in UK

This game is one of the most gentle games there is. It does use the wand controller, but it doesn’t require the joystick controller. The entire game is played while seated in augmented reality.

our thoughts:

Love, love, LOVE this game. I will admit, I wasn’t a good student. I apparently almost always caught the drapes on fire when using Incendio… thus losing house points. LOL. While progressing through the story line, the book reads lore from the Potterverse aloud with animation styles similar to the story of the Deathly Hallows. Not enough games like this. I have embedded a video at the end of this section regarding the making of this game.

Book of Potions

Once again at Hogwarts, this time in Potions class… with your Wonderbook acting as your potions guide.

Solo Play

10+, 7 in UK

This is still a sit down game requiring the lone orb controller.

our thoughts:

To be completely honest, this is a beast to find reasonably priced in the US, easy in the UK. We don’t have it, but want it terribly. As I’ve stated, there are not enough Wonderbook games, only 4, and of those 4, we are truly only interested in 2.

LOTR: Aragorn’s Quest

you follow a fun side story and play as Aragorn and Gandalf, the controller acting as a sword and staff.

2 player co-op

T for Teen for Fantasy Violence.

This does require both the orb controller and the joystick controller. Can be played seated the entire time. Easy enough my mother could play (with anoxic brain injury and mild strokes).

Most of the other Move games we have are for playing games. There is a variety of fantasy games where you use the controllers as wands or swords, most can be played while seated, which would work for wheel chair bound individuals. Most of these games are rated Teen and Mature, so outside the Wonderbook, a Move may not be the move you want to make until your kids are older, unless you also play.

Microsoft Kinect

Pros:

  • No controller needed! Just need the camera (If you don’t have voice set up, you may need the controller to get games started)
  • Has voice control you can use on many menus, including main menu of system.
  • Can be played in med and low lit rooms, will let you know if it needs more lighting.
  • Each gamer profile can be configured to fit the gamer’s physical needs. The Kinect will also auto recognize them.
  • No accessories needed.
  • Microsoft has designed games with the idea of therapy in mind, not only helping with coordination and mobility, but social skills and the ability to bond with their peers over video games.

Cons:

  • Camera sold separately, not compatible with multiple platforms. Sold separately for Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows.
  • Does not do well with tons of light, so cannot be played outside.
  • The more players you add, the more difficulty the Kinect has with tracking. Optimum is 1-2 players. 4 can be chaos, but is still fun.
  • Many games require the use of legs
  • More Kinect games are available for the 360 than the other platforms.

The Kinect is hands down our favorite. We originally got it for Thing 2 as a gift for physical therapy, which she was attending weekly. We lived in the south east on an island and she has a severe mosquito allergy. She had to stay indoors most of the time. The Kinect was a life saver.

We have a LOT of Kinect games, a majority of them being dance games because there’s no controllers! I will list some of the more unique ones outside of dance games, because I feel that genre is self explanatory. (Most of the dance games can host up to 4 players).

Game:

What is it?

Specs:

Physicality:

Disney Fantasia

Fantasia: Music Evolved follows more conductor type movements. During musical pieces, from classical to modern music, players can modify it with different styles and featuring different instruments. The combinations are near endless, allowing for enjoyable repeat gameplay for music lovers.

The campaign mode is solo. There is a co-play mode, but the story is so much better played solo.

Rated 10+ due to some lyrics.

While it is designed to be played standing like a conductor, you can do this sitting, however, you may need some adjustments to allow for all the arm movements.

our thoughts:

This is Thing 3’s favorite Kinect game. The music is pretty enjoyable. I would have loved to have had more classical music. This game is largely underrated and we wish there was a sequel.

Disneyland Adventures

This game is the virtual theme park. The rides are mini-games. There are tons of things to do if you or the child isn’t particularly active that day, like search for hidden Mickey’s, collect autographs and photos, hug your favorite characters.

This CAN be played with 2 players, but works best with 1.

I don’t know why it says E10+, it’s 7+ in other countries. Thing 2 played it at age 4.

When “walking” around the park, only arms are needed, we have played it sitting down, but the mini games are often full body.

our thoughts:

Not only does this game encourage physical movement within your favorite Disney movies, it encourages social skills as your character interacts with the park characters. An example is you can ask for a hug either verbally or with specific non-verbal gestures. It reinforces waving hello and goodbye, shaking hands, etc. This was used as part of therapy for Thing 2. Other than the mini games, the background noises of the “park” while walking around are not overwhelming.

I will admit I played it in the middle of the night, I wanted all the autographs. ~sheepish grin~

Rush: Disney Pixar Adventure

This is somewhat like the Disneyland one, but with Pixar characters and less focus on a theme park, more on the minigames.

Up to 2 players.

E for Everyone.

Full body

our thoughts:

While cute, we definitely enjoyed Disneyland Adventures over this one. It was missing the magical feeling in the park. I know it sounds silly, since its a virtual park, but I’m just being honest.

Fable: Journey

This game follows the Fable trilogy as a mage, but less choices, more path led… so no more “Chicken Chaser.”

Solo play only.

Rated Teen (12+ in other areas): mild blood, mild language, violence

This game is made to be played while sitting. I will admit it is quite physical in the arms and upper body. I used this as part of my rehab and it was very affective, made me very sore.

our thoughts:

While this game is not designed for kids, not only small kids have disabilities. This is story enriched and is beautiful to look at. There wasn’t anything majorly offensive I needed to worry about for my kids (unlike the original trilogy).

Kinectimals

Run a big cat and bear sanctuary and feed/train the animals.

It’s a better version of Nintendogs, Catz/Dogz…

Solo play

Rated E for Everyone.

Most care can be done while sitting. Some of the training requires full body movements and speech.

our thoughts:

This is a cute game, also probably one of the quietest games we have. The background sounds are peaceful without tons of music. Both Thing 2 and Thing 4 had issues with sensory overload when they were younger. This game was Thing 4’s favorite.

Star Wars

4 ways to play:

Jedi Destiny: Main story mode, become a padawan, use a lightsaber and the force to find your destiny.

Podracing: it’s racing podracers.

Rancor Rampage: mind control a Rancor and have them crush, crumble, and chomp.

Galactic Dance-Off: It’s a dancing game with parodies of modern music with Star Wars themed lyrics…

Co-op 2 players

Up to 4 for the dancing.

Rated T for Teen: Mild Lyrics, Blood, Violence

(If your kid is a huge Star Wars fan, this game is the least of your worries).

Depends on which mode you play. Podracing and Rancors require arm movements, while Jedi Destiny will require more movements overall. Dance obviously requires full body movements.

our thoughts:

I’ll admit, this game has some issues. If you are not a die hard Star Wars fan, pass and pass hard. The jedi controls are weird and cause some funny antics. We spend more time laughing at each other than we do actually progressing in the game.

I can think of better racing games than podracing… I like Rancors. ~shrug~

The dancing is debatable on whether it’s meant to be B-rated movie bad or Star Wars Holiday Special bad. I like B-rated movies. I haven’t been able to make it thought the Holiday Special in one setting yet. I was originally semi excited thinking of the cantina and Star Wars Galaxies… thought I’d get to be a Twi’lek dancer. Was in shock to see a bunch of storm troopers and bounty hunters dancing.

Boba Fett intro, Star Wars Holiday Special 1978

The Kinect is more versatile with a large game library, especially on the 360. I would suggest this route when looking into a physical video game.

Synopsis:

Wii

Sony PlayStation Move

Microsoft Kinect

  • Makes a better gaming system than a therapy adjunct.
  • The Wonderbook is amazing, but not enough titles for it.
  • Controllers are rechargable
  • Few child titles.
  • Excellent games that can be played from a seated or wheelchair position, but requires finger use for button.
  • No controllers
  • Lots of titles for kids of varying ages
  • Most games cannot be played seated
  • Almost half the game titles are exercise or dance games…
  • There are some really cool adult titles as well… we need exercise, too (Elder Scrolls V, to name one).

The unexplained explained – hidden insurance perks for your special needs kiddos.


It’s the end of the year and the holiday season, you know what that means? Insurance policies change! You thought I was going to mention something fun, didn’t you?

Bah Humbug… a majority of the plans change around the beginning of the year, as I’m sure you’ve heard/seen on tv, the radio, or any electronic device hooked up to the outside world.

Having worked in healthcare, done medical billing, and being a special needs parent, I get asked about hidden perks or things that are available that’s not well known. Let’s dive in!

Please note, if you do not live in the United States and are receiving universal healthcare, this whole article will NOT make any sense to you.

First and foremost!!!!

Legend of Zelda, owned by Nintendo

Many people don’t know that MOST insurances have caseworkers available. You can request to be assigned to a caseworker. Said individual will help you with insurance claims and getting the items/care your kiddo needs. This is also available for adults, it’s great for people with disabilities.

I do not believe Tricare offers this. I haven’t had much luck with that, however, we have a caseworker with Thing 2/4’s secondary insurance. She checks in every 4-6 months, unless we need something. She goes to bat for us with the primary insurance, directs our call to the right department if we are having issues with claims/prescriptions, and best of all… she will communicate with the doctors’ offices to obtain prescriptions for health supplies/DME and coordinate with a DME supply company.

Medicaid

  1. Medicaid is an insurance offered to children that fall into a certain tax bracket.
  2. If your child qualifies for Medicaid based on house income only, you might lose it if you get another health insurance. The income levels vary at that point. Speak with a Medicaid rep if you are thinking of getting healthcare through the marketplace or work.
  3. If you child has the special Medicaid for disabled children (there’s a list of qualifications, receiving SSI as a disabled child is the most common), you CAN have another health insurance, and is often encouraged. This may vary in some states, but please consult with someone.
Snoopy, owned by Peanuts

How does the Affordable Healthcare Act affect me:

Previously, having any one with medical issues was a nightmare for obtaining medical insurance. People would get turned away for having pre-existing medical conditions or would have to pay premiums for 3-6 months before even being allowed to use their insurance. I remember this well because my thyroid died when I was in high school. When I obtained insurance through my then job, I was not allowed (per the insurance) to use it for 6 months all because I have a pre-existing condition. Mind you, 20 years ago, levothyroxine was less than $10 a month at the time without insurance. Even now, it’s less than $20.

Insurance companies MUST cover mental health. This is a huge win because many people with chronic illness or disabilities suffer from anxiety and/or depression and even medical PTSD. Caregivers can have caregiver PTSD or burnout.

Insurance plans must include at least a basic prescription plan. No more having to add on 50 million options to your basic crap plan.

Your insurance covers your child until they are 26, sometimes longer if they are disabled or special needs.

Durable Medical Equipment (DME):

What is Durable medical equipment?

Durable Medical Equipment is equipment that

  • is Durable (can withstand repeated use)
  • Used for a medical reason
  • Not usually useful to someone who isn’t sick or injured
  • Used in your home
  • Generally has an expected lifetime of at least 3 years, (some insurances require 5)
  • are ordered or prescribed by a physician

Examples of DME:

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • wheelchairs (manual and electric) and scooters
  • hospital beds
  • traction equipment
  • canes
  • crutches
  • walkers
  • kidney machines
  • ventilators
  • oxygen equipment and accessories
  • monitors
  • blood sugar meters
  • blood sugar test strips
  • continuous passive motion devices
  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices
  • pressure mattresses
  • lifts
  • nebulizers
  • bili blankets and bili lights
  • suction pumps
  • breast feeding pumps
  • adaptive and assistive devices/technology*

* Adaptive vs Assistive devices/technology:

Assistive technology refers to “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities”. These can be harder to obtain through insurance companies.

Where as Adaptive tech refers to items/equipment that are specifically designed for persons with disabilities and would seldom be used by non-disabled persons.

Adaptive tech examples
  • Screen readers  – allow the visually impaired to easily access electronic information
  • Braille and Braille Embossers – a printer for braille
  • Large-print and/or tactile keyboards – the large print is self explanatory, but the tactile keyboards have additional raised portions on the keys (think of the bump on keys “F”, “J”, and num pad 5 on a standard QWERTY keyboard.)
  • Amplified telephone equipment – allows users to amplify the volume and clarity of their phone calls. Some have the option to adjust the frequency/decibel for those with specific hearing loss.
assistive tech examples
  • Adaptive Cutting Equipment – Cutting aids help make working in the kitchen much easier for one-handed people or sufferers of strokes/hemiplegia.
  • Holders – peeling plates for one handed peeling, pot and pan holders to prevent spills while cooking, etc
  • Non Slip Mats – often used for writing/drawing and prevents the page from sliding around on the table
  • Dinnerware – suction plates/bowls to prevent sliding while eating, equalizing spoons/forks for individuals with tremors, etc
  • Openers – one handed bottle and jar openers
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices – one of the most requested assistive technologies, it’s a tablet or laptop that helps someone with a speech or language impairment to communicate. I will do a separate section on AAC.

How to get DME:

This part is pretty straight forward, only not. Your healthcare provider will write a prescription for said DME. Then you have to find an DME supplier that accepts your insurance. The supplier will work with you and your insurance to get the DME approved or find acceptable alternatives. (Or you can have a caseworker through the insurance company and they will do the leg work for you).

Don’t be discouraged if the insurance denies it the first time. You and your provider may have to provide additional documentation so the approval board will be happy. (Or get a caseworker….)

(Get the caseworker).

Monty Python

If insurance is a no go, there are tons of grants out there for various equipment and diagnoses. They are too numerous to add them all. I will list the ones for AAC below as it’s own topic.

Value Added Services:

What is a Value Added Service?

Dr. Mario, NES, owned by Nintendo

These are services that hardly anyone knows about that are available through your insurance and sometimes even your employer. Each insurance/employer has different services available, so you will need to specifically ask for “Value Added Services.”

These services often help patients with long term care by helping change behaviors vs throwing meds at every problem (which can be costly for the insurance and side effects can be a detrimental to the employer).

A common thought is providers don’t want to prescribe several pricy medications for something that will persist without intervention or behavior modification. (there are some outliers as you will see)

Examples of Value Added Services:

Not everything on this list is covered by every insurance or employer. I am also not listing everything that is available. You will have to request a list of what is available for you. Your caseworker can assist you with this. (How do you think I got all this info?)

  • Adherence and disease management programs – this often includes a treatment team (providers, nurses, specialists, pharmacist, dieticians, psychologists, etc) to ensure you are educated about your disease and are adhering to your treatment plan to best optimize your health with a chronic condition. Chronic medical conditions often included in this are:
    • Diabetes Mellitus
    • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
    • Asthma
    • Hypertension
  • Reimbursement assistance – they do a host of things, but most commonly are used for help covering copays and deductibles.
  • Data products for payers and manufacturers – analytics, numbers, stuff
  • Infusion therapy – simply put, home IV services
  • Physician education and support – required and bonus Continued Medical Education (CME)
  • Patient education and support – your discharge and summary papers are included under this. The staff or nurse will confirm you understand your instructions, give you a copy, and sometimes follow up with a phone call.
  • Patient lifestyle management – this can include support groups, classes, having a caseworker (not the kind I keep mentioning).
  • (my favorite) Special Needs Summer Camps – camps designed for people with disabilities or special needs. They often have specific diagnoses they take. I found out this was covered by our caseworker. I have a list of camps (that were still running summer 2021, as many shut down due to Covid).

The most requested – Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices:

So, these can be hard to come by because many times insurance companies will argue there are no-tech or low-tech ways to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. They include:

  • gestures, pointing, and facial expressions,
  • writing,
  • drawing,
  • spelling words by pointing to letters, (Ouiji bord?!)
  • pointing to photos, pictures, or written words (eg: PECS or Picture Exchange Communication System)

These of course can be issues with mobility problems, Pervasive Developmental Disorders (body language is a no go), reading difficulties, and new situations an individual is not prepared for.

High tech AAC:
  • using an app on a tablet to communicate – most common wanted is an iPad
  • using a computer with a “voice,” sometimes called a speech-generating device (SGD).
    • eye gaze devices – these are for individuals who still have their mental facilities, but have extreme physical limitations. Common brands include Tobii (I’m not crying, you’re crying), and Eyegaze.
    • portable electronic PECSLingraphica is a brand that is often approved by several insurances and is highly personalized with the words you want.

How to get an AAC:

insurance

I implore you get a caseworker. They have more pull in the insurance world than calling customer services.

The electronic PECS and SGD are easier to get because they are not used by non-disabled people. The hardest to get is a smart device, like an iPad because non-disabled people can use it. Many assume because it is less expensive than other AAC, it will be easier to get one or pay for one out of pocket, but they’re still pricey.

Most of the medical documentation is provided by the health care provider for AAC’s, however, should you fight for an iPad, you have to give clear reasons specific to your situation as to why an iPad would fit your needs. You will still have to be backed by a professional (letters of medical necessity).

  • List the cost of the iPad
  • list the apps you need and why
  • list the cost of said apps
  • attach any articles you’ve found regarding iPad and your child’s diagnosis (the more academic, the better)
  • attach any articles you find relating how the apps are beneficial (the more academic, the better)
  • educational necessity, as in the device will allow for your child to participate in a Free and Public Education (FAPE)
School

If the insurance route fails, schools can provide an assistive device. However, the device is still property of the school and you will have to receive permission to have the student remove it from the classroom/school. (Many school districts have pre-K available at age 3 for special needs children, after they age out of Early Childhood Intervention or ECI).

  • 1) request for an evaluation by a professional knowledgeable with AAC’s. They will test your child with various AAC devices and make a recommendation for which device your child was able to work well with.
  • 2) request it to be a part of therapy
  • 3) amend your child’s IEP to include said device. Specify if you are able to take it home and what apps are allowed if it is a smart device. refer to How I do it: AAC in the IEP
grants

If all else fails, grants are often available to get an AAC for your special needs kiddo. Look around, ask your caseworker and providers. Hospital affiliated social workers can also be a help. I didn’t list ones that only serve specific counties as the list would be too long. Be sure to check in your local area if these don’t work for you.

iPads

Little Bear Gives accepts applications for fully loaded iPads for children with CVI (Cortical Visual Impairment)

Different Needz does fundraising throughout the year to provide grants for DME for children.

Cerner Charitable Foundation, formally known as First Hand Foundation, offers grant funding for medical costs, equipment, vehicle modifications, or displacement.

Friends of Man helps with DME, glasses, dentures, hearing aids, etc.

Autism Care Today is a grant program specifically for children with Autism to get iPads and other assistive devices, ABA therapy, safety equipment (like GPS trackers), social skills learning, and special needs summer schools.

Danny’s Wish raises money so they can assist with children with Autism getting iPads.

National Autism Association has grants for a 32 gb iPad, extra protection plan, the Avatalker AAC app, and a protective case.

not a grant, but Apple offers a Trade in program for old devices when purchasing a new one.

speech generating device

Different Needz does fundraising throughout the year to provide grants for DME for children.

Cerner Charitable Foundation, formally known as First Hand Foundation, offers grant funding for medical costs, equipment, vehicle modifications, or displacement.

Friends of Man helps with DME, glasses, dentures, hearing aids, etc.

Small Steps in Speech offers grants for AAC excluding iPads.

AAC Funding Help lists insurances known to regularly approve SGD and other ways.

your friendly, neighborhood Charities

If all else fails, you may need to contact a local charity who may help with funding or fundraising. Another option is a service club, they are designed to serve their communities. Like Lions and Shriners and Elks. Oh my!

I’d say look in your local yellow pages to see what clubs are in the area, but that would be dating myself.

Important Update!! 12-19-21:

There is a free app available to use across all platforms. It is not customizable and requires internet access as it is via the browser, but it is a good alternative while you are working on getting an AAC device.

In closing:

I know this post was long, boring, and tedious, but I am hoping I helped in some way.

Enjoy your holidays and stay safe out there. Deal with insurance stuff next year. ~wink~

Just a Little Bit Longer… and reminiscing


This year, not only have we reached record lows in winter, but we are reaching record highs. Yay me. ~sarcasm~ During a season that would normally see drops in temps all the way into the… 80’s Fahrenheit, we are stuck hovering 100 daily. Except for the few times we get hit with the left over bands of the hurricanes as they pass through the Gulf. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the damage and devastation caused by said hurricanes.

School has already been in session for over a month for us, which means sick kids, or waiting for kids to get sick, so all plans are tentative. This month is the month for ARD meetings. I know many people dread them, but I look forward to seeing what is available to help the kids succeed in life. I don’t know how many people watched Ren & Stimpy, let alone remember the LOG song, but for the last several years, I started singing LOG with ARD… ~shrug~

LOG from Ren & Stimpy

Random fact: the LOG song is a parody of the Slinky song.

We had a scare that involved several trips to the ER because we thought Thing 2 had a collapsed lung. Thankfully, they figured out she was dislocating one of her ribs from over playing her horn. Yes, musicians can get injuries, too. A dislocated rib can mimic a collapsed lung. That was a month ago and she’s still recovering from it because that kid doesn’t slow down.

If it doesn’t start cooling down again, I’ll do another big game or two…

In the meantime…

Spinoza Bear Project

As some of you may know, I have links to items and tools for special needs kiddos on the “Links Page”. There have been a lot of amazing advancements in the way of interactive toys to help with kids on the spectrum, anxiety, or specific medical conditions. However, before these advancements, there was a tape deck bear named Spinoza. He was much simpler than the other tape deck bear of its time, Teddy Ruxpin. Spinoza’s mouth didn’t move and you only needed to turn a nob on this chest (his heart) to turn him on and adjust the volume. This bear was ahead of its time as he was developed for children with physical and emotional issues.

There were tons of fundraisers to ensure children with chronic health conditions or those undergoing major surgeries could get one. Child therapy centers would have them for children with bereavement issues or those on the spectrum. The bear often came with a book and 9 cassette tapes. He was later upgraded to a cd player and the cassettes were transferred to cd. But, sadly, the project was ended in 2006 with no record as to why.

What made this bear so special over other toys with cassettes? He delivered stories that were relevant to cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback therapy. It had never been done before, and I don’t believe it has been done since. Details are as follows (I could only find the songs and stories for 4 of them. You have no idea how disappointed I am).

  • I’m Your Friend and My Name is Spinoza – a song and story to introduce Spinoza to children and build a relationship with them.
  • Everybody Needs a Little Tenderness – anxiety reduction techniques
  • You Are all You Need to Be – self esteem and encouragement
  • Do You Wonder? – curiosity and encourages learning
  • Dream on the Water – relaxation techniques that remind me of biofeedback therapy, and it would help promote sleep (I wore this tape out, no joke)
  • Good Friends – discuses feelings and healthy relationships
  • Hold on to Me – grief and loss/bereavement
  • Breathing Healthy, Breathing Free – was originally designed with children who have lung/breathing issues in mind. Promotes positive thinking and breathing exercises
  • New Beginnings – relaxation and making healthy choices
Spinoza’s songs by Peter Himmelman

You can read about the project direct from the voice of Spinoza himself, Peter Himmelman, here.

Alice

I went down this rabbit hold because I had a Spinoza who suffered water damage when I was an adult. However, I remembered this very special bear and his tapes and I thought it might help Thing 4, as she has chronic pain (8/10) even with meds. Thus began my journey into his history and his disappearance. Even if I can’t find the bear itself, I would be thrilled if I could find the cd, but there are none in production and I can’t find any second hand (they’re coveted items).

I wonder, if there was enough hype, would Peter Himmelman would release the Spinoza “tapes”, or if he even owns the rights to them, being the voice, singer, and the songwriter.

Let me know if you had a Spinoza or your thoughts in the comments.

#bringbackSpinoza

Video Games are… good??


(Cover image by artist Walter Newton: Gallery)

For decades, we’ve heard not to play video games because they will rot your brain, just like the “boob tube”. . Video games are harmful to a child’s development. Many of these people will sit in front of a tv show or a movie, but video games are “bad”.

What if I told you video games can encourage reading? Video games can assist with physical therapy. Video games can help develop critical thinking. Video games help to combat the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Gaming in Health Care:

Gaming affects health care
Physical changes

Studies have shown that preschool children who have played with the physically interactive systems, like a Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move, or an X-Box Kinect have improved motor skills. They are often able to kick, throw, and catch balls better than their peers who have not been exposed to said gaming systems. Many hospitals, therapy centers, and some nursing homes are using the Wii, Move and Kinect as part of their physical therapy. In a study of 20 elderly Parkinson’s patients who played for three (3) months in physical therapy, they found an improvement of 55% in gait velocity, 65% in stride, and 55% in balance. ICU’s have reported due to the lower costs of the Wii, they are able to save patients money and they still see a significant improvement in the 33-64 age range. These systems are now older and thus cheaper so families can also have them at home to encourage their child to move. (You can check online or at your local gaming store that deals in older systems). This is also great for children who have to stay indoors during certain seasons due to a medical condition or severe allergies.

I do plan on doing an article on the differences between the Wii, Move, and Kinect in the future.

Boston did a study on surgeons who use microsurgery. The results showed doctors who play video games were 27% faster than those who don’t AND made 37% fewer mistakes. So now its a good thing to have a surgeon who plays video games. In another study, they found eyesight improves with video games. (They have no idea how). In children with amblyopia (crossed or lazy eye), when they play games for a year, there was 30% significant, 60% moderate improvement to the crossed eye. In addition to sight improvement, people develop the ability to differentiate between more shades of gray. (Not a book reference). People who drive at night or are pilots benefit the most from this… and the poor people asked by their partner to pick a shade of gray to paint with. The Leap Motion combined with a VR (virtual reality) headset is often used to help with Occupational Therapy and “hands on” educational and training programs. In a study using virtual table video games (like tablets) for occupational therapy over one (1) month for children ages 3-15 with motor disabilities, they found 3x improvement in fine motor skills and range of motion, especially with manipulations over door knobs, zippers, and buttons.

Brain functions

Gaming affects a variety of parts of the brain. Games can help people with decision making. RPGs (role playing games) are some of the best ones that encourage the player to make decisions, whether it’s based on strategy for gameplay or options that will change the story line. Studies show that people who play games make decisions 25% faster than those who don’t play, and they do not lose accuracy. They also found that gamers can often make 6 separate decisions and act on them within one (1) second, which is apparently four (4) times faster than the average person. (This means the non gamer makes 1.5 decisions and acts them out within a second.

The University of Rochester, New York, found that gamers are able to multitask more than six (6) separate tasks at the same time and not get confused; the average non-gamer can focus on up to four (4) tasks.

RPGs, text adventure games (old school) which are like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and reading game guides are excellent ways to boost reading skills. Commodore 64 had tons of the text games that are still popular to this day. Classic Reload has them available to play online.

Off topic…

Interesting fact, a popular text based game called Jewels of Darkness was involved in a lawsuit. The game is actually a series of three (3) games that were based on stories by Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, Simarillion, and Tales from Middle Earth). Because of this, the game was originally released as the Middle Earth Trilogy. Needless to say, they didn’t have rights to his estate and so they had to change the name.

Psychological

The University in Auckland, New Zealand, had 94 young people play a computer/mobile RPG called SPARX, designed for ages 12-19 to teach skills that are often taught in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). In many cases, the game reduced symptoms of depression more than traditional treatments. There have been other studies with others young people and the total tested is 187 to date and they have found it also helps with anxiety and anger. 44% of players recovered completely from depression, compared to 26% who have standard treatments. 60% showed a reduction of symptoms by at least 30%. Unfortunately the game is currently only available in New Zealand. I hope it is more widely available in the future.

Oxford University found that people who play Tetris right after a traumatic experience can help reduce the chance of flash backs or PTSD.

The downside to this is individuals, especially males, who only play violent video games are foundto have a decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe, which can lead to altered mood states and aggression. It can also lower their empathetic response. It’s been found that those who only play excessively violent games have more anxiety than other gamers. Also, video game addiction can lead to decreased activity in the frontal lobe.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com
Gamification in Health care

These are games that encourage patients to make healthy choices. A very common version of this is apps that link to your fitness watch and such. Some are literal games that will let you trade in the steps you take for gear for your game, some are audio books that will read about an apocalypse or adventure. These often have “action scenes” that encourage you to run just like the characters in the stories do. Some are using games for behavior modification to combat childhood obesity. This has been particularly effective in the preteen range. They get more game time in trade for eating 2-3 more servings of fruits and veggies a day and less junk food. Results are typically seen within 2 months.

Zen games are becoming increasingly popular, these often have techniques that are taught in Bio Feedback Therapy. Some biofeedback centers use games to encourage children to relax. For example, we’ve seen some that are linked to the child’s heartrate and breathing that had a butterfly or a bunny come out and move when the child was relaxed.

There are some amazing innovations in electronics to help children, whether for education, calming, communication, or tracking.

Jerry the Bear is designed for children ages 4-9+ with Type 1 diabetes. He has lots of features so he children can relate. He is available for purchase (and donation) here.
My Special Aflac Duck is amazing. It is designed for children with cancer, although it is gaining popularity for those being treated with sickle-cell anemia.
Sidekicks was designed to he a holographic personal assistant. He’s been found to be helpful with individuals with Autism, Alzheimer’s, STEM education, and just plain fun. The Kickstarter is scheduled to start this month…
Purrble was launched late 2020 and it’s been an amazing tool in helping children with anxiety. It’s technically an interactive toy rather than a video game. There is not an app for it yet.
Gululu may be pricy, but they help children who actively refuse to drink water. Their water intake directly affects their virtual pet .
Jennie, although not a video game aspect, is an awesome interactive toy. It was designed with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, however, they are exploring it’s use for other people with disabilities who cannot care for an animal, but still crave the interaction. It was brought to life by Tombot and the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

Education:

In this day in age, many people have heard about educational games. Some commonly known ones are:

The Oregon Trail (Link will let you play online version. Oregon Trail has had many updates and expansions.) 1992 Remastered version.

Tinybop offers a wide array of STEM games for mobile platforms. We have several of them. Thing 2’s favorite was the human body. The apps explore anatomy, physics, nature, space, and engineering.

Note: the human anatomy doesn’t show the urogenital system unless you purchase it.

Toca Boca apps… when my kids were younger, they had all of the older ones. Toca Boca designs apps for younger children, or those with special needs. Many of these apps encourage human interaction so children who have social issues can learn from it (examples include Toca Store, Toca Birthday Party, Toca Tea Party). They designed a whole Toca Hair Salon series (I think there’s 5 games total) that can help with children who experience anxiety from the hair dresser. Tons of imaginative games, and even science games like Toca Lab, which is based on the periodic table of elements, and Toca Lab 2: Plants, which explores cross germination. (Update: I just got word they have also started releasing a box like Sago Mini.)

Sago Mini was also a favorite in our house. They design apps for toddlers and preschoolers that help them explore their world and emotions. They also introduced the Sago Mini Box which include playsets and activities that relate to the Sago Mini world. Sago Mini is a subsidiary of Toca Boca, so you know the quality is there, and it’s easy to transition to the next stage of play with Toca Boca.

And the list keeps going. There are online games that mimic school curriculums, games for subjects, games for typing.

One of the ways we help with education on “non educational games” is to have the kids design their own cheat sheets for the game. This is something my parents started with me. So I have PRIMA guides (which encourages reading and following directions) and tons of guides and maps I made myself.

In not so short, video games can be beneficial when used in the right way. If you are looking for ways to download games to your computer, our favorites are GOG and Steam for more modern games and indie games. Our favorite for puzzle games, including match 3, hidden object games, literal puzzles, and word games is Big Fish Games.

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or recommendations for types of games.

I’m now headed off to see if I die from dysentery again.