Autism: Musical Computer Game Helps Children to Learn and Relax

Photo: Screenshot of the game with shapes and flowers 

A musical computer game to help children with autism learn and relax has been unveiled to the public at the Abertay Digital Graduate Show.

John Steven, a Creative Sound Production student at the University of Abertay Dundee, built a game designed to help autistic children learn about colour and shape recognition while also helping to keep them calm and focused.

The game works in a similar way to popular musical titles like Guitar Hero: different coloured shapes appear on screen, prompting the child to press a matching key.

Each of the different shapes plays a different chord, and when the right buttons are pressed a flower grows on the screen. The calming music and the positive reinforcement of showing success on screen is designed to be enjoyable and help autistic children develop independent learning skills.

"I really wanted to use the creative skills I learnt at Abertay University to help children with learning difficulties, and giving them the opportunity to use music to learn and relax at any time felt like a really important thing to do,” said Steven. "There's very little available in terms of interactive games for children with autism, which is a huge shame. By bringing together shape and colour learning with relaxing music and interactive play, I hope this project can make a real difference.”

"Even though this is the end of my degree, I don't see the project ending at all. There's so much more work to do, from testing and developing the game further to finding a company to work with to build a prototype controller. This is just the start," he added.

John's Mum worked with children with special educational needs, which inspired him to put his creative skills to a practical, beneficial use.

The project has been developed with the invaluable support of Seonaid Birse and Maggie Powell, music teachers at Kingspark School in Dundee, a dedicated school for children with learning difficulties.

"The combination of the visual impact and the use of sound is very effective for working with children with autism. There's a sense of control for the pupil, which they may find difficult to achieve in a normal learning environment,” Birse said. "The positive reward of seeing the flower grow when the right keys are pressed is also very important, helping make learning a positive experience for children who may have complex needs and be unable to communicate verbally."

Powell added: "John's game really promotes positive learning and a sense of progression for children on the autistic spectrum. It's also great that the game could be used at home or in the classroom. These children face so many limitations in their lives. This project actually opens up their world to many more possibilities and it has huge potential for development in many, many ways."; Source: Abertay University

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