When Pendleton Academies closed its doors last fall, the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District (UMESD) acquired several used Nintendo Wii game consoles. They were handed down to UMESD Assistive Technology Specialist Lon Thornburg, who began to research the use of Wii systems in physical and occupational therapy with special needs students. The results?
Now Thornburg, physical therapist Jodi Garberg and occupational therapist Christi Sullivan are working together to create a pilot program for the Wii therapy. They spent two days observing students using the system and several games at Sandstone Middle School and Hermiston High School to develop a baseline of activities and design a data collection model for the program.
The trio are hoping to create a pilot program that will be used for six months at a time at two different schools (to be determined) next year. They’ll study the effectiveness of the system to motivate special needs students, as well as how well it helps to improve their communication and motor skills. The pilot program will also give them the opportunity to improve the program, its uses and effectiveness, as well as refine the data collection model.
“We think it’ll also be a good tool for diagnosing what some of these kids can’t do,” Thornburg said. “I think there are just tons of possibilities with this system.”
Thornburg emphasizes that this program is not something for kids to have the chance to just fool around with.
“We want to make sure people understand we’re being very clinical about this,” Thornburg said. He noted that the only expenses so far have been to purchase several Wii games, such as the sport pack, Outdoor Challenge and Wii Fit. All of the consoles and remotes were donated when Pendleton Academies closed.
The Wii Fit aerobics and balance programs have fun therapeutic movements such as the hula hoop, penguin slide, ski slalom, tightrope walk and balance bubble. The Outdoor Challenge features a “mole stomper,” trampoline, water slide, jump rope and trail rider. These games help special needs students to improve their balance and motor skills.
Through his research, Thornburg has found other physical and occupational therapists across the country who are using the Wii systems in rehabilitation centers, assisted living centers and even for war veterans in VA medical centers.
“Doing the physical therapy can be quite painful for some of the veterans, so using the Wii helps them with their therapy while helping to take their minds off the pain by doing something fun,” Thornburg said.
Thornburg also has connected with Mershon Hinkel, an occupational therapist in Philadelphia known as the “Wii OT.” The pair have shared various Wii therapy ideas and experiences.
By refining the program through the pilot project, Thornburg hopes to collect enough tangible and effective data and experiences to apply for grant funding to help the program take flight in more schools with the UMESD’s physical and occupational therapists."
Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!