John Yan  /  Gaming Nexus
Four-year-old Kyle, who suffers from autism, found the gesture-based Kinect gaming system easier to use than those that require button-based controllers.
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By Wilson Rothman
msnbc.com
updated 11/11/2010 7:18:30 PM ET 2010-11-12T00:18:30

John Yan reviews games for a site called Gaming Nexus, so despite his initial lack of enthusiasm in the Xbox 360 Kinect motion controller, he knew he'd have to buy one when they came out. After all, it wouldn't be fair to dump all the Kinect reviews on his fellow writer, Chuck.

So last weekend, John and his four-year-old son Kyle went to Target to pick one up. Kyle is autistic, and has had trouble with video games, but his dad says that he always wants to try, and to keep practicing despite the potential for frustration. The controller is a barrier for Kyle. It's hard for him to master the complicated (and seemingly unrelated) button combinations required by traditional game consoles.

So when the Kinect was set up and the included title, Kinect Adventures, was loaded up, Kyle asked to give it a try. "What proceeded to happen was pretty amazing," John wrote on his site.

Playing a ball game, Kyle "jumped around and flailed his arms and legs in trying to punch the balls back to the blocks." When the game ended, John got an additional surprise: with just a little initial instruction, Kyle could navigate the game's menus like it was second nature.

When I called John for an interview, he told me that Kyle didn't have a severe case. "We're fortunate that he expresses some emotions," said John. But the family still faces challenges. "His issue is communication and comprehension. He didn't start talking until very late."

John tells me that he's thrilled when he experiences any breakthrough with Kyle, such as when they're riding in a car and Kyle explains the difference between two objects or concepts, or explains his motivations, why he does or doesn't want to do something. "You really pay special attention to any small signs of progress," John wrote.

So the breakthrough with the Kinect was particularly touching, especially after having tried with the Wii, with less successful results. "We tried a couple of games, especially racing games like Mario Kart, but he'd just get stuck," John told me. "But with Kinect he just put up his hand and knew where to go."

Related story: Kinect and your kids: What works, what won't

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