In a previous post I discussed the main places online and offline that you could find autism toys and games. I also mentioned that the advocacy group Autism Speaks has a list of autism toy and game vendors.
The main categories of products I see featured on this site include:
- Computer games
- Educational videos
- Board games and card games
- Physical Toys for Children with Special Needs
- Art Toys
- General toy vendors and manufacturers (i.e., stores and products not focused on special-needs kids)
In this post I sift through the first category of products on this list–computer game companies– and provide for you my impressions of these products and vendors. As a disclaimer, I have no stake in any of the products and don’t make money from any of them.
Computer games makes up one of the largest categories of products featured on the site, which is surprising considering all the concerns regarding the educational value of video games. The site lists several computer games catering to autistic children, including Animal Agentz, Aven’s Corner, Make Beliefs Comix, My Golf Game, Piano Wizard, and Playtime With Zeebu.
Animal Agent is a UK-produced “computer-based learning tool” that you can subscribe to for access, with an annual per user price of $30. The product bills itself as promoting “relaxation and coping skills.” It says it was developed by a Dr. Mark Jones based on his research while a doctoral student at De Montfort University. It also says the research version was presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005 and 2007. The website looks like it was last updated in 2008, meaning it is quite old at this point. The product videos on the site show a product that seems like an online yoga class run by cartoon animals with amateurish sound effects (you can even hear static in the background!). This product seems inadvisable given its price point and quality, as you can get a lot of educational computer games in bargain bins for less than $10 and it’s unclear what medical benefits it provides. Additionally, it doesn’t look particularly interactive. Don’t waste your time on this site!
Aven’s Corner is a free online games site. The quality of the site looks better than Animal Agent but there are still obvious graphical issues (not surprising, considering the game is free, but still disappointing). For example, the icons that you click to enter each game are distorted in their proportions. It bills itself as containing online games that have less distractions, making them better geared towards autistic children. The creator says he is the parent of a 3 year old autistic son. The site also contains links to other online games and resources. Although it is nice that the game is free, playing with a few of the games I’m unsure how interesting they actually are or of what educational value they provide, if any. It is also unclear what you are supposed to do in many of the games and there are graphical issues. The site also has prominent ads, which may or may not be of concern to you. Although free, I don’t see much value in you spending time trying to use this site.
Make Belief Comix is a free online site that allows you to create comics you can print out without having to draw anything. Users drag and drop pictures and text bubbles and write their own text. The site looks professional enough and the features seem to work without any major bugs. This might be a site worth using if you want to write comics for your autistic child.
My Golf Game is a PC game associated with golf hall of famer Ernie Els, who is a parent of an autistic child and touts it as a high quality game that can help them develop “key coordination skills.” The game costs $35 and can be purchased the web site or at large retailers such as wal-mart. The game is professionally built but is several years old so the graphics look dated at this point. It looks like a standard computer golf game and is not specifically geared towards autistic children so depending on your child’s needs it may not be a good fit. Alternatively, you can buy golf games such as those by Electronic Arts for under $20 if they are more than one year old so this game isn’t even the best value.
Piano Wizard is a game that is supposed to teach you to “play real music in 5 days or less.” The second you visit the site you are bombarded with every cheesy infomercial line you can think of (rhetorical question in large font? Check. Crazy red font and all caps words? Check. You get the idea). I’m not even going to go further on this product’s website for fear it might put a virus on my computer.
Playtime With Zeebo is a free online web game that says it’s endorsed by the National Autism Association. The company’s main business is selling activity books and videos. I’m not going to examine the books and videos in this post, only the online games. The two available online games—Emotions with Zeebu and Memory Flip, appear very professionally designed and work well. Because of this and the endorsement by the National Autism Association, this site may be worth checking out.
I was hoping the list presented by Autism Speaks would actually have good selections for autistic children, or at least selections that look professional. It’s disappointing what types of computer game products are listed there but I suppose it just shows how hard it is to find products appropriate for autistic kids.