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Tap To Talk: How a Video Game System Is Helping An Autistic Child

A product for the Nintendo DS handheld gaming system is helping John Pompa's Autistic child with communicating
A product for the Nintendo DS handheld gaming system is helping John Pompa's Autistic child with communicating
Pompa Family

The effects of video game systems on children’s lives have been a constant topic over the 40-year-history of the video game industry.

Reports that claim video games bring forth aggressive behavior in children have been seen numerous times. Reports stating that gaming can help children learn and develop problem solving skills have also been seen.

This report will also be about what a video game system brought to a child: the gift of speech.

John Pompa, a video gaming champion with Twin Galaxies and a resident of DuBois, PA, has been taking on a challenge far greater than any video game for several years now.

“My eleven year old son Donovan is diagnosed with Autism,” said Pompa. “He was about two or three years old when the doctors at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh diagnosed him. It's the most challenging thing for me to communicate with him, because he is pretty much non-verbal.”

While Autism in children also gets a great deal of news coverage, Pompa feels it doesn’t give the true story.

“Everyone knows the statistics, but unless you’re a parent yourself, you don't know the half of it,” Pompa said. “Lots of different doctors, specialists, teachers, psychiatrists, TSS workers, wrap-arounds. And we are all trying to do what best for Donovan. So it's like we are all this super team, trying to come up with plans, and goals. “

While attending a meeting to discuss an Individualized Education Program for Donovan, Pompa learned of a product that would change their lives.

“We got to talking about devices that help special needs children talk,” Pompa recalled. “I've watched countless shows and programs about these such devices and I am truly interested in them. And to a child like my Donovan, who is real good with electronics, this would be something he could use. The Superintendent of Special Education then asked me if I had ever heard of TapToTalk.”

TapToTalk’s website advertises the product as a ‘portable, customizable, affordable, socially acceptable communication device’ for numerous electronic devices. Among these devices is the popular Nintendo DS handheld gaming system, which has sold over 145 million units worldwide.

As a dedicated gamer, the news of such a device came as a surprise to Pompa.

“It was kind of embarrassing in a sense. Me a gamer, who has set ‘world records ‘on the DS, never heard of this company or program.” Pompa stated. “I'm an all right gamer, but I'm a way better parent. I get involved with everything with Donovan. The thing that really really surprised me was that this program isn't licensed by Nintendo.”

TapToTalk made an instant impression, according to Pompa.

“I was blown away,” John said. “Here is a program that does everything the real fancy and expensive devices do, but playable on a DS. I played around on it for a minute, and couldn't believe how easy this was to use. In three presses of the screen, I said ‘red, juice, please’. That might not sound like a lot to some people, but to a parent of a non verbal child, it's a whole new world.”

In using TapToTalk on his Nintendo DS, Donovan can now communicate with the world around him more easily.

“It gives a voice where there wasn't one,” Pompa said. “Donovan talks a little, but it's real rough jibber jabber. And unless you've been around him like me and my family, you're not going to have a clue as to what he is saying. To him it's like playing a game, but to us, he is communicating. With this, now he can say, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, and in our case I need to go to the potty.”

While stating that the product has made communication easier for Donovan, Pompa also stresses the importance of parental involvement.

“I'm not saying this will magically fix everything for parents, but it's a nice tool if used correctly,” Pompa stated. “A lot of Autistic children stem off of things, and games can be one of them. It’s something you would have to do with them, not just hand it to them like a game to figure out.”

While TapToTalk is available on a variety of electronic devices, Pompa says he feels the Nintendo DS is the more ideal product for its use.

“Our kids are already used to them,” Pompa said. “Most kids today have some sort of gaming system.”

While TapToTalk has brought forth positive changes in John and Donovan’s lives, Pompa feels that the major video game companies should back the product and others like it.

“I think the big name companies should back programs up like TapToTalk,” Pompa said. “I would love to see Nintendo do something with it. They've always been more kid friendly. I could see Microsoft and Sony doing something to really push Kinect and Move to the limits.”

“I wish I knew how to program games, because I would make them geared towards all these kids. Games are meant to fun, but I think they could really be a useful educational tool also.....because I've seen it happen.”

To learn more about TapToTalk and it’s many features, you can check out their website at www.TapToTalk.com

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To contact the author of this story, please e-mail him at psp@patrickscottpatterson.com or visit his website at www.PatrickScottPatterson.com.

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