What is your signature innovation in one sentence?
We are using life simulation games to assist people with cognitive disabilities in developing self-awareness, problem solving, and social awareness.
Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?
We are working with off-the-shelf games such as The Sims to explore cognitive skills with people who have cognitive disabilities. By simulating real life, The Sims provides a consistent environment which can allow someone to explore real-world situations. We build upon work using The Sims with school-age children with cognitive impairments (de Craene) and low-income youth (Tsikalas). We work primarily with adults transitioning from secondary education into vocational training programs.
What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?
People with cognitive impairments often lack insight into the effect of their disabilities, blaming external factors or laziness. This reduces their motivation to address functional difficulties. Also, people with cognitive impairments often live sheltered lives with limited exposure to demands which they will face in the workplace or independent living situations. We hope to provide a mirror for clients to see how their functional impairments can affect "real-life" situations.
Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.
As part of a Cognitive Skills Enhancement Program, we have clients use The Sims to create a character which is like them, and then explore tasks such as having the character succeed on the job, balance a budget, and make social connections. Goal include improved self-awareness through seeing how their self-identified traits influence the character's behavior, improved planning and problem solving to meet the character's needs, and improved social awareness. We are identifying common activities for all clients to attempt, as well as ways to customize the experience to individual clients' needs and goals.
While we have anecdotally observed clients associating their characters' problems with the client's real-world cognitive issues, continuing and scaling the program will require evidence of real-life clinical benefits. This grant would allow us to dedicate effort to obtaining pilot evidence through a controlled study.
How do you plan to scale your innovation?
We are beginning to disseminate our experiences with The Sims. As we gather evidence (anecdotal or formal) of clinical efficacy, we hope to encourage other programs serving children or adults with disabilities to take advantage of this tool. As our own work matures, we will draft a therapy plan/curriculum for use by other interested rehabilitation counselors or special educators.
In addition, we plan to augment our work with The Sims in our center with on-line content in an online community such as Second Life or The Sims Online. This will provide a means for our staff to work with clients remotely, and potentially the means for people at remote sites to independently take advantage of content created for our clients.
In the meantime, once we are able to collect pilot data of clinical efficacy we will leverage this to support grant applications to NIH or the Department of Education for further clinical studies