It was this past August on my son’s fourth birthday when I hooked up his
VTech V.Smile game for the first time.
In the pattern of how I have been teaching him new things, his older brother and I took turns playing while he eagerly watched on.
After finally getting his chance, his first experience was disastrously adorable and produced a lot of smiles, but no gaming skills. I have learned not to get stuck on game rules and focus on the bigger picture.
V.Smile, with a joystick, is a great starting point to the interactive gaming world for children with autism. Games vary from beginner, like Wubbzy and Winnie the Pooh, to the more difficult games such as Scooby Doo and Toy Story. It’s important to have a range of games on-hand with various difficulty levels because once a child grasps the joystick and functions, there’s no telling what he or she can do.
The V Motion controller is much harder and requires a child’s upper body to engage (similar to a Wii), instead of just a handheld joystick. We tried this briefly when one of our controllers broke, but it was just too difficult. As such, the V Motion is not a good place to start unless your child is accustom to playing a Wii.
Most of the games, including those from Nickelodeon and Disney, can be played on either format (V Smile or V Motion), but you will need to read each game box carefully. If your budget is tight, eBay and Half.com are great resources to acquire previously owned games. I have seen used consoles, with controllers and games included, for under $25.00 (plus shipping).
These games help improve hand-eye and body coordination, which is a great alternative to having your child aimlessly stimming and staring into the TV all day.
VTech teaches by using numbers, counting, letters, spelling, shapes, colors, sizes, tracing, matching, and math. There’s also a hand-held version which can be taken into the car and along to stores.
VTech is also valuable for children with autism because you have the option to play from one level to the next, or you can choose whatever level is best suited for your child. There’s also a learning area, and in many cases, a sing-along option with lyrics. There is a microphone option on many of the consoles, which adds the dynamic of karaoke.
Since August, my son has learned to correctly spell from Mickey Mouse, learned upper and lower case letters from Winnie the Pooh, and practiced math with Buzz and Woody, all while his favorite characters cheer him on.
As usual, the biggest lesson was mine. I will never again make the mistake of underestimating what my son’s hands and brain are capable of.
I highly recommend the VTech V.Smile. Its ease-of-use, simplicity, and diversity are great for teaching. I encourage parents of moderate-to-low functioning children with autism to check it out and don’t forget the extra controller so you can join in on the fun!