Biography and Research Interests
Lieke Wijnhoven is a clinical therapist and external PhD-student at GGZ Oost Brabant at the Radboud University. In her PhD, she studies the effect of the innovative serious game Mindlight on children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and comorbid anxiety symptoms who are in the age of 8-16 years old and receive treatment at GGZ Oost Brabant.
In the clinical setting, a large proportion of children with ASD experience anxiety symptoms. Because anxiety is an important cause of impairment for children with an ASD, it is necessary that effective anxiety interventions are implemented for these children. Recently, a serious game called Mindlight has been developed that is focused on decreasing anxiety in children. This approach is based on recent research suggesting that video games might be suitable as an intervention vehicle to enhance mental health in children (Ferguson & Olson, 2013; Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014). It is expected that Mindlight is an effective anxiety treatment for children with an autism spectrum disorder.
First, it is known that children with ASD often feel a close affinity for technology and games, which means that the participating children are probably intrinsically motivated to play a game like Mindlight in therapy (Khandaker, 2009). Moreover, it has been reported that computer based training could be an effective tool in treatment for children with ASD, due to its visual and structured character (Silver & Oaks, 2001). Mindlight uses visual aids and structured sensory information to a great extent, both for creating a ‘scary’ exposure environment and for teaching important treatment concepts. Furthermore, Mindlight includes frequent practice and exposure opportunities. Because Mindlight can be played repeatedly, with the difficulty level increasing as children become better players, there is a great deal of practice and exposure involved in playing this game. As a result, the gap between knowledge and behavior may be substantially decreased and effective cognitive and emotional coping skills can be automatized and possibly generalized with practice. Finally, therapy skills can be practiced at home, which means that children have an easier access to mental health care. In this way, the waiting lists can become shorter and the therapy costs can be decreased when implementing a game like Mindlight as therapy tool.
If Mindlight turns out to be effective for anxious children with an ASD, it could be considered as a good and suitable therapeutic alternative to the already existing interventions for anxiety in children with an ASD. Mindlight could then be implemented as an evidence-based treatment for children with an ASD in mental health institutes and special education schools.