Gotta Catch 'Em All: Using Pokémon to Work on Social/Emotional Skills in ASD
I am an adult woman who, in full disclosure, has no interest in playing video games. But I am ADDICTED to Pokémon Go! In my house, we play the game at least an hour a day, and boy is our pup pooped!
I don't know what draws me to the game. It could be that I missed out on the original Pokémon craze when I was a child, or that it sparks my ever so prevalent competitive nature. Whatever the reason may be, I'm sure most of you have been reading all the articles that show how Pokémon Go can be used for children with autism. As soon as these articles were published, I found them fascinating. Children were engaging in spontaneous communication, interacting with new peers and the world around them effortlessly. As I read this, and started seeing it within the school I work, I knew I had to bring some sort of Pokémon inspired activities to my music therapy sessions!
Did you know the creator of Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri, identifies as being on the Autism Spectrum? Maybe that is why the game is able to be enjoyed by all! I find that when individuals on the spectrum, or families affected by the diagnosis of autism, create games and toys, they are easily adaptable to facilitate socialization and other critical developmental skills. Sometimes this may be done subconsciously, but I think individuals with their own unique needs tend to develop activities and games out of the “norm,” which works out great for kids with autism!
So how do you use Pokémon in your home, classroom, and sessions to work on social and emotional skills in children with autism?
#1: Create your own original Pokémon!
Print out an empty Pokémon ball
I used just a simple open circle the size of a standard sheet of paper
Discuss the different types of Pokémon that exist
I broke it down into 4 categories: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire
Choose the colors that go with each of these types of Pokémon
Some simple ones are Red and Yellow for fire, Blue and Green for water, Brown and Black for earth, White and Gray for wind
Draw and color your Pokémon! It can be inspired by Pokémon that already exist or something completely from your imagination
#2: Name, Combat Power, and Revive
Choose a name for your Pokémon
Choose 2 – 4 powers your Pokémon will be able to use in battle
Choose 4 coping skills that your Pokémon can use to revive itself during times of battle
I used the revive portion of the activity to work on individual coping skills. I prompted my clients to think of strategies they use when they’re having a difficult time such as closing your eyes, walking, or taking time and space away.
My clients took this beyond what I originally dreamed up such as “Breath of Deep” and "Music of Calming," giving the coping skill a gaming type of phrase
#3: Sound Effects
This one is more Music Therapy specific
Help your kids choose a sound effect that goes with each of their Pokémon’s powers
Fireballs could be a drum hit or the crinkling of tin foil
Tidal waves could be the ocean drum or water splashing in a sink
Record the sound effects for easy access during battle
I use an app called MadPad on the iPad that stores up to 12 sound effects, making it easy to record more than one clients’ sound effects on a single screen
#4: Make a Theme Song
Using Garage Band on your iPhone or iPad, help your child create an original theme song for their Pokémon
I like to use the “smart” instruments as they already have chords and rhythms you can easily use to make a song, without any previous musical knowledge
#5: Battle your Pokémon!
2 Pokémon will battle at a time
Introduce each Pokémon by playing their theme song
Each Pokémon will make one move at a time, using their power and sound effect to produce the move
The Pokémon being challenged will have to use one of their revive tactics, coping skills, to bring their Pokémon to full health before making a counter-move
This will continue until each Pokémon has used all 4 of their powers
#6: Talk About It
What did your child learn from their Pokémon battle?
What type of coping skills worked best for your Pokémon?
What other things could you use to revive yourself in real life during a difficult challenge like a Pokémon battle?
These are only some ideas, but there are so many directions the discussion could go. You could also just do steps 1 and 2 for kids who are looking for some fun drawing activities, with a little social skills work thrown in!
If you haven’t experimented with using Pokémon Go with your child at home, in the classroom, or in sessions, I highly suggest it. Seeing how my clients interact with each other when they catch a new Pokémon or find a Poké Stop is truly incredible!