My little brother was diagnosed with severe autism. He wasn’t able to focus on his tasks or studies. One day I realized his interest in smart devices while he was playing with my smartphone. I immediately looked for content and apps that were educational and fun, but found none that suited his needs. They were all full of ads that could be considered triggering for his sensory sensitivities.
I was almost entirely consumed with finding a solution to help my brother’s education. I read many studies keeping up with developments and advancements, so I was familiar with the methods used in autism therapies and treatments.
At that time, I was studying computer science at university. One of my close friends and I were wracking our brains and decided to make a simple color matching game, keeping in mind the traditional and well-proven behavioral methods, and it worked! My brother could not stop playing the game, and he learned the colors, which he struggled with in his special education classes. Later on, we thought that this would be a fantastic tool for children with special needs and founded Otsimo.
Many autistic students, like my brother, have various learning and speech difficulties, the severity of which also varies greatly. However, advancements in technology and their marriage with traditional, well-proven methods have changed the game for students in special education. Gamification is one such method.
What is gamification?
Gamification is taking something, anything that is not a game, really, and implementing and applying game mechanics into that thing to increase engagement or solve another specific problem.
It would seem logical to apply gamification only in environments where games are involved. But in actuality, game mechanics can be applied anywhere. One of the best examples of gamification can be seen with Starbucks’ reward program. In this program, Starbucks turned loyalty into a “game.” Depending on the number of purchases the customer makes, they get badges and free products, move up levels, and appear on leaderboards. Using game mechanics like these keeps customers coming back.
Gamification is often used to solve certain problems in engagement. For instance, in the special education context, regular and constant practice is crucial. Gamification would entice the child to engage more with the content, increasing the efficiency and the benefits to be received from the educational content. You might guess from the sound of this that gamification would be the perfect tool to use in special education classrooms if complemented with other methods, and you would be right. Studies have shown that through gamification and gamified educational content, autistic children’s motor, behavioral, and communication skills can improve. Of course, it is essential to select a tool that is suited for the child’s unique needs, and instruments that can be adjusted along the way depending on the child’s progress.
Gamification makes traditional, proven methods accessible to autistic children both at home and in school environments. Through gamification, a high-quality education app, developed under the guidance of professionals such as SLPs and teachers, delivers the traditional methods in a non-traditional way. This makes it so that parents can also be involved in their children’s education by keeping track of their progress through the measurement tools encompassed in the gamification method.
Another benefit that gamification of the educational content brought about is that this process helps autistic children with the difficulties they face when it comes to focusing. While traditional lessons and activities may not be engaging to some students, particularly students who struggle with focus, making educational content into a game is a different experience. Gamified educational content that is specifically designed for autistic children allows for a more engaging experience where the child can focus more and better on the subject matter at hand.
Challenges and Solutions
One of the problems faced with developing gamified content is to find the balance between appropriate content and making the content fun enough to be engaging. Another issue is that it can be challenging to turn traditional intervention and therapy methods into a format that can be implemented in a gamified way.
Both problems require a lot of research and development, as well as feedback from the community. All the moving parts are done and revised with the help of related professionals. At Otsimo, we test the games with children both in home settings and at schools. We also made it so that the apps are highly customizable, as the needs of autistic children greatly vary from child to child.
Thankfully, we are living in a day and age where we have the know-how and infrastructure to make gamification an effective tool in special education classrooms for autistic children to help them build upon their skills, boost their strengths, and work towards their educational goals.
Zafer Elcik is the CEO and co-founder of Otsimo. At only 26, he is a thought leader that pioneered in democratizing special education needs for all children with Otsimo Special Education and Otsimo Speech Therapy. Connect with Zafer and Otsimo on Instagram or LinkedIn.