Monday, June 11, 2012
Dear Mr. Toppo,
Recently, you published an article touting the therapeutic uses of the popular Kinect gaming platform for children with autism ("Video games boost autistic kids" June 1, 2012). You further highlighted a number of testimonials provided by teachers who have installed the Kinect platform in the classroom and have witnessed marvelous results. One teacher described a child who immediately learned to imitate through the use of Kinect after a therapist had been unsuccessful in teaching the child that skill after six months of therapy. You reported that another teacher found that a child with autism had better coping skills with social dilemmas due to his use of the Kinect.
I have no doubt that the Kinect may be enjoyable for some children with autism, and thereby may be used as a reward for learning. Furthermore, it is clear that the Kinect frees up teacher time in the same way that a DVD player does; however, we would like to caution your readers not to conclude that it is necessarily effective for "therapeutic" uses such as "cooperation" "to respond to emotion and verbal cues in an appropriate manner," to "cope with social dilemmas as they happen" and to "get help from video avatars" as described in your article. The testimonials you highlighted are very seductive since they appeal to our imagination and hopeful nature; unfortunately, they are also very dangerous if those responsible for the education and treatment of children with autism make treatment and funding decisions based on these "feel good" unsubstantiated stories. I am sure you would agree that none of us would like to see this potential unintended consequence.
Prior to making any therapeutic claims regarding the Kinect, particularly the broad-based claims made in your article regarding the superior efficacy of the Kinect to individualized therapy, these knowledge claims should be tested with a rigorous experimental design whose findings are first peer-reviewed and then published in a professional research journal. In short, the scientific method must precede any claims of therapeutic benefit. Until that time, the Kinect should be described as the developers intended - a movement gaming platform that is great fun!
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment