As a self-proclaimed Luddite, technology is generally NOT my favorite thing. It certainly isn’t the first place I turn for a solution. My husband on the other hand, is my polar opposite. He lives for geeky things, being an early, if not bleeding edge, adopter of the latest and greatest techy gadgets to surface. I am embarrassed to say that during our early dating days, I sent him into nirvana, not as you might imagine, but by giving him the newest geeky toy – one of the very first GPS navigators! (This was back in the day when only military people had GPS!) Needless to say, I had no clue what I was buying – but he was ecstatic!
Suffice it to say, I am in the minority when it comes to technological interest, but our home is filled to the brim with geekiness. We may have only five people in the family, but we have 6 computers, PDAs, iPods, GPSs, gaming systems, tvs….and the list goes on…and on… “Screen time” (defined as free time to play on anything with a screen, such as tv, video game, computer, etc.) is the most highly sought reward for my kids….who could happily spend hours each day glued to a screen (barely pausing for a potty break), if allowed. (In reality, we limit ‘screen time’ to a maximum of one hour per day…and only after all chores and homework are complete.) I stand alone in my disdain for electronics, succumbing to their power only at the insistence of my tech-evangelizing hubby.
So, I am both surprised and humbled to stand before you today as a technology convert and declare that the Wii game system has proven to be a huge boon to my Aspie son. Yes, let me repeat that – I love the Wii!!!
From a very young age Gregory has been reluctant to attempt new things due to his fear of failure and/or the unknown. (I have come to learn that this trait is quite common among Aspies, but of course, I didn’t know that then….) Frequently, I would have to work so hard to coax him to try something I thought he would enjoy, whether it was a new piece of playground equipment, a new food, or a new activity, sport or game. Many times, I would just have to force him into the new experience, grabbing hold of him as we both zoomed down a slide or ran through a sprinkler. Sometimes his first response was positive, but mostly, after being forced to try something new, he would retreat to ponder the experience by himself.
Greg’s resistance was particularly strong when it came to physical things, like playing sports, sledding or riding a bike. It seemed a bit like a chicken and egg dilemma…was he resistant because of poor balance, stamina and coordination, or did he suffer from these things because he was resistant to participate actively? I couldn’t say, but assuming practice would help improve his skills and thus his attitude, we persisted in coaxing/forcing Gregory to keep trying all the great American past times…soccer, t-ball, basketball, swimming, tennis, etc…. These attempts had rather dismal results, to say the least, and Gregory continued to resist.
And then, the Wii entered our lives. The kids received the Wii game system a few years ago. Surprisingly, we weren’t among the early adopters in this case, because I had resisted bringing another ‘screen’ into the house to dominate our children’s attention. But Barry’s geeky proclivities eventually won out. The Wii appeared on Christmas morning to joyous acclaim and was played by one or another screen-obsessed person for the next 14 hours! (sic).
For the most part, Gregory would stand back, closely observing the others as they maneuvered through the new interactive games, such as tennis, bowling, baseball, etc. He wouldn’t actually participate himself, but was avidly participating vicariously, as he watched and cheered on his siblings. When we finally talked Greg into trying one or another of the games, he would get frustrated and quit at the very first sign of ‘failure’. We tried to encourage him, saying it would take some practice to learn, but he was not willing to persevere.
So, I was more than a little surprised when, a few days after Christmas while no one else was around, I saw Gregory playing baseball on the Wii. “Hey, Greg…I’m glad to see you’re trying the Wii!” I said. He looked slightly abashed, mumbled something and promptly exited the game. I apologized for interrupting him and tried to talk him into continuing, but he refused. What a shame…I was sorry I had mentioned anything…
So the next time I ‘caught’ him playing, I held my tongue – I had learned my lesson! I pretended not to notice him there and carried on with my business. He was in deep concentration, trying to learn the rules and the technique of Wii Baseball – on his own terms. This MO continued over the next few days, with Gregory exiting abruptly, anytime someone commented on his game or had the audacity to try to join him in play. Eventually though, he gained enough confidence to allow others to watch and even join his game. He was still happiest playing on his own, but he came to tolerate when he had to share the game with his siblings.
And then, the most amazing thing happened…One day out of the blue, Gregory asked his Dad to come outside and play catch with him!!! We were stunned, because for years Greg had refused to learn to throw and catch a ball. When Barry was teaching Greg’s older brother Daniel to throw, catch and hit a baseball (without must finesse unfortunately, being a Brit who confused cricket with baseball ), he tried repeatedly, but unsuccessfully to involve Greg in the training sessions. Gregory wanted no part of baseball. He stubbornly refused to even try to learn, I believe once again, due to fear of failure.
But the Wii, that wonderful bit of technology, had enabled Gregory to gain an understanding of baseball in a fun, non-threatening way…a way that Greg could relate to using characters (Miis) that he created, but were not him. These characters could fail, so that Gregory wouldn’t have to! He used these Miis to show him the ropes, develop his skills and demonstrate how fun the sport could be, until eventually Greg was ready to try it himself in real life.
So that long-awaited day arrived and Daddy was only too eager to play catch with his son. In spite of his virtual skills developed over weeks of playing Wii Sports, Gregory still struggled to learn the actual skills. But the important thing is that he was at last willing to try….and willing to fail. Today he is quite proficient at playing catch, although his form is rather unorthodox. He’ll probably never be a great ball player, but he has developed new-found physical skills and emotional resilience as a result of this experience.
Greg has followed a similar road to learning the basics of bowling and tennis too. He started playing these games in the virtual world of Wii and subsequently was willing to try them in the real world. Better yet, as a result of these learning experiences, Greg has dramatically improved his willingness to try new things – of all sorts, from foods to books to activities… That debilitating fear of failure or the unknown doesn’t seem to hold him back quite so much anymore. And while he may never be a ‘thrill-seeking, rush-headlong-into-new-experiences’ type of person, today he is, at least, open to the possibilities. All thanks to the Wii and its virtual world where learning by trial and error can be fun.
Technology – it’s a wonderful thing…sometimes…. (Just don’t tell my husband I said so! )
The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.
– Steve Ballmer