Pokemon Go

How Pokemon Go can Support Children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs

It’s everywhere! It is taking over the hearts and minds of our children (…and husbands, and wives, and cousins…neighbours….). Pokemon Go’s worldwide downloads are estimated at around 30 million and increasing everyday. So, I have decided to adopt an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em attitude’ and find out more about Nintendo’s new mobile phenomenon.

You may wonder why Pokemon appeals to so many children, but especially those with communication difficulties. So, after a bit of digging, I discovered Satoshi Tajiri the creator of the Pokemon franchise had speech and language difficulties of his own and was in fact diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome affecting some aspects of his social communication.

But one thing is for sure, Satoshi was not defined by his difficulties and instead used his talents and passion for collecting insects as an inspiration for his extraordinarily successful Pokemon legacy.

So, let’s get right to it, I want to show you how you can use Pokemon and Pokemon Go to support children with speech, language and communication difficulties. I have come up with some ingenious little ways to ‘work in’ your speech and language practice during Pokemon Go time with your child.

I guess it’s a bit like grating carrot into their spaghetti bolognese. I’m squeezing speech and language goodness into an activity these children already love.

Your little ones will be learning new words, following instructions, telling stories and developing conversational skills without a photocopied flashcard in sight.

So let’s begin; I have split the article into four areas of speech and language:

  1. Speech sounds
  2. Phonological awareness
  3. Language
  4. Social communication

I have provided a definition of the terminology and how it might look if your child has difficulty in these areas. Most importantly I have offered some ideas of how you can support your child’s speech and language development using Pokemon!

SPEECH SOUNDS USING POKEMON

What are speech sounds?

Probably the most recognisable form of speech and language difficulty are those affecting speech intelligibility and clarity. Some children struggle with speech articulation or may have speech delay affecting their phonology, which can make their talking difficult to understand. Speech sound production is a complex process that involves precise planning and coordination of different articulators ( jaw, lips, teeth, tongue, palate, cheeks, and vocal chords) therefore lots of practice is required to get things right.

Articulation Therapy using the Pokemon character names

The process of Articulation Therapy goes through the steps of teaching the target sound (the sound you want to teach) in isolation, syllables, words, sentences, stories, conversation and finally generalising the target sound in all contexts of language. It’s important to consult a Speech and Language Therapist before proceeding with articulation therapy.

If your child is working at ‘word level’ or ‘phrase level’ you can practice your child’s target sounds in single words and at phrases using Pokemon names and related words. In table 1 I have I have given an example of some Pokemon themed targets you could use if you are working on the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative “ch”. However, with over eight hundred Pokemon names, there will certainly be Pokemon names that will address the articulation targets you are working on in therapy.

Table 1 – An Example of Pokemon themed targets you could use if you are working on the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative “ch”

  • Word initial
  • Charmader
    Charmeleon
    Charizard
    Chikorita
    Chinchou
    Chimecho
    Chimchar
    Cherubi
    Cherrim
    Chingling
    Chatot
    Chandelure
    Chespin
    Chesnaught
  • Word Medial
  • Archeops
    Archan
    Raichu
    Pikachu
    Cubchoo
    Chinchou
    Pichu
    Smoochum
    Medicham
    Torchic
    Poochyena
    Chimecho
    Jirachi
    Chimchar
  • Word Final
  • Barboach
    Trapinch

Focused Auditory input using Pokemon Character names and Pokemon stories.

In this therapy approach, the child is not expected to produce any of the words but the Speech Therapist or parent designs the environment to provide for lots of opportunity for the child to ‘hear’ the target sound or pattern. Parents follow the child’s lead, talking about what the child is doing and in the process the child is exposed to many examples of the target.

How does this help?

Articulation and focused auditory tasks will increase your child’s auditory awareness of their target sounds and provide an opportunity to practice their articulation. Ultimately the aim is to increase overall speech intelligibility and develop your child’s confidence in their communication.

Phonological Awareness using Pokemon character names

What is it?

Phonological awareness (PA) is a child’s knowledge about the sound structure of words, from syllables to the individual sounds in a word. It covers rhyming, syllable detection, and onset rime manipulation.

Rhyming Pokemon characters with real words and writing Pokemon poems

So, the aim of rhyming games is for your child to be able to listen to the sound patterns in words, enjoying and reciting learned rhyming words or alliterative phrases in familiar storybooks or nursery rhymes. You could find rhyming Pokemon pairs and try playing a rhyming memory game by placing all the cards face down on the floor and taking turns to turn them over to find matching rhyming pairs. You could also try rhyming snap or rhyming bingo to support their rhyme awareness skills.

Another idea is to create an original rhyme or poem about your favourite Pokemon and discuss the words in the poem that rhyme.

My favourite Pokemon is Bulbasaur
He’s like a plant crossed with a dinosaur
He eats plants too so he’s an omnivore
But most of his energy he keeps in his bulb store
When he evolves into Venosaur
He looks even more awesome than before

Pokemon Syllable detecting

In unstressed syllables, vowel sounds lose their unique identity and they become a schwa vowel. To successfully spell the vowel sound in an unstressed syllable the student must recognise the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables which is why syllable awareness games are so important. Try identifying the number of syllables in the name of your favourite Pokemon

Table 2 – An Example of Pokemon names with varying number of syllables

  • 1 syllable
  • Bliss
    Conk
    Phan
    Gross
  • 2 syllables
  • Vulpix
    Arbok
    Psyduck
    Golduck
    Zubat
  • 3 syllables
  • Venusaur
    Vileplume
    Venonat
    Venomoth
    Clefairy
    Clefable

How does this help?

Developing your child’s phonological awareness will help develop their reading and literacy skills. They will learn to listen to and manipulate sounds and syllables and start to recognise the patterns in words. This will develop their word knowledge and their interest in letters and sounds.

Developing Expressive and Receptive Language using Pokemon Go

What is language?

Language is what we speak, write, read, and understand. Language is also communicating through gestures (body language or sign language). There are two distinct areas of language: receptive (what we hear and understand from others’ speech or gestures) and expressive (the words we use to create messages others will understand).

For children with language delay and language disorder the world of Pokemon offers a wealth of opportunities for developing new vocabulary, for understanding concepts and for asking and answering questions.

Describe your Pokemon

Compare your Pokedex with each other. Describe a Pokemon in your Pokedex to your child and see if they can guess which one it is. Reverse it, and ask them to describe a Pokemon to you in detail for you to guess rather than simply tell you the name. This will challenge them to use descriptive language and will allow you to see whether there are gaps in their vocabulary you can support.

If you child is struggling to describe it on their own, ask them questions about the Pokemon’s appearance and personality ,for example:
What colour is it, what type is it? (normal, fire, grass, water poison etc) Does it have a tail? What shape is it? See here for a guide to what are the best type of questions to ask children of different ages

While you are describing:

Slow down. Try not to talk so fast. Children will have a much easier time understanding and following what they hear if you speak at a slower pace.

How does this help?

Develops their receptive and expressive vocabulary and understanding of concepts. Supports their development of theory of mind and listener perception.

Following Instructions in Pokemon Go

Whilst playing Pokemon Go ask your child to describe to you where they need to go to find the next Pokemon or to get to the next Pokestop. Having your child use directions increases their understanding and use of locative concepts such as in, on, under, next to, in front of, behind, beyond, left, right and straight on. Make sure you provide plenty of opportunities. The more a child is exposed to a language, the better they will become at using and understanding it.

If you child is struggling with this, take it in turns. Model the language to them highlighting the keywords you are targeting with your vocal intonation and a visual gesture

‘Ok I can see on the map we need to go walk behind the church and then turn left’

Exaggerate the key word by highlighting them in your speech – say them a little louder with a sing-songy intonation.

How does this help?
Develops their receptive and expressive vocabulary and understanding of concepts. Supports their development of theory of mind and listener perception.

Developing Social Communication skills using Pokemon Go

Scripting

Scripting is a type of role-playing activity that students can do to help them learn about and practice various social skills. Scripting gives students a “script” or written text for what to say or do in a certain situation. With scripting, everything students act out is planned and written in advance, including the characters in the situation and the particular social scene. If your child has social communication difficulties or social communication anxiety practice scripting or role playing a likely Pokemon Go scenario for example,

  1. How to recognise other people that may be Pokemon hunting
  2. How to stay alert and aware of your surroundings while Pokemon hunting 
  3. How to start a conversation with a Pokemon trainer you don’t know
  4. How to be polite and mindful of other people’s personal space

How does this help?

Practising a skill with a script first can help children transfer that knowledge and behaviour to real-life/Pokemon Go situations in the community. As well, scripting gives students the chance to actively participate in learning about social skills by not only modelling social behaviours, but by improving their self-awareness as they discuss and evaluate how they did with the given scene.

I hope this has given you some ideas about how to use Pokemon Go for Speech and Language Therapy.

I love hearing stories about children using Pokemon Go to explore their town and learn about landmarks and monuments. And all those wonderful things you hear about children investigating new places and meeting new friends. If you have any stories you would like to share please leave a comment below or tweet us @mableTherapy

Martha Currie

Martha Currie

Speech an Language Therapy Assistant

Martha is a senior speech and language therapist with experience working with primary and secondary aged children. She has a special interest in hearing impairment.

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