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Linguistic’s Final Research Paper

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There are some minor focus/organizational flaws in this paper, but the first three paragraphs about the OED’s definitions of “retard” are very interesting–check it out if you guys have a minute. Have a good break!

The Evolution of “Retard”

Language changes.  We assign different meanings to words everyday by shifting a word’s connotation—it is expected.   But layering a word’s semantics creates a tension between the denotation and connotation of a word because a word can then encompasses a group of ideas, things, or people, whether it be depicted as pejorative or ameliorative.  This tension manifests within both reference frames because denotation, a word’s literal definition, and connotation, the implications given to a word by past and present culture, form a semantic relationship that reflects the values of its community.  Because of this relationship, and because semantic shifts are inevitable, words are used differently in different contexts.  The term retard has gone through semantic shifts, pejoration, and generalization, and, because of its often slang use, misrepresents the neurodiverse community.

According to the OED, the term “retard” was originally used as a verb.  “Retarder,” the word’s first form, immerged from 12th century Old French as “to put off, delay (something), or to hesitate” (The Oxford English Dictionary).  The verb had temporal value, as in to delay an original point in time for a later point in time.  Not until the 13th century did the verb begin to refer “to slow[ing] something down, to delay or slow down the course or progress (of something),” or to “go more slowly” (The Oxford English Dictionary).  These definitions refer to the act of delaying time—it is not defined by the sense of something that is delayed. If it were, of course, that implication would be the word’s connotation, not what the word denotes.  As a verb, it was not until 1344 until it was denoted as “to be slow, or to act slowly,” which further shifted by 1690 as “to be delayed” (The Oxford English Dictionary).

Formed in the early 16th century, the noun “retard” avoided referring to the body or development for over a hundred years.  The etymology of the noun “retard” traces its origin to 1629 French.  The French defined “retard” as meaning a “delay” that eventually came to mean the “retardation (of the movement of a body)” in 1752 (The Oxford English Dictionary).  Because the noun form of the word was created close to the same time as its verb’s semantic shift—from “to delay” to “to be slow”—one can infer that the noun’s origin of “delay,” if it does not share the same meaning shift of its verb, shares a same pejorative connotation.  Regardless, a noun formation formed after centuries of using its verb only proves that the word “retard” once denoted an action that then came to denote a specific object (and/or person).  This is especially important because, as per 19th and 20th century medical classifications, “retard” was never, nor is it defined, as medical.  The noun is currently defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the fact of being slowed down or delayed with respect to action, progress, or development […]”  In regards to its educational connotation, “retard” denotes “a child whose educational progress or level of attainment has fallen behind that expected for his or her age” (The Oxford English Dictionary).

The current connotations of “retard” are unfortunately the most used.  The educational connotation includes the failing attempts of attainment experienced by what should be an equally intelligent person.  This reference disables the person or object the noun is classifying, and “is generalizing not just to a group that shares a particular impairment, but to all people with significant limitation due to impairment—people with disabilities” (Anderson 1043).  This is especially pejorative to the cognitively impaired community because it reduces their neurodiversities to a word that denotes and connotes a slowness, as opposed to their brains working in contrast to what is defined as normalcy.  These generalizations or phrases “like ‘wheelchair bound,’ ‘retarded,’ or ‘deaf and dumb’ are no less oppressive than the lack of physical access since they mark how certain bodies [or minds] are interpreted and read” (Davidson 119).  Davidson’s article “Universal Design—The Work of Disability in an Age of Globalization” highlights this verbal oppression and how the government can assist its use’s victimization:

“Much of [his article] is reinforced by language in the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) that recognizes that a person in a wheelchair becomes disabled when he or she encounters a building without elevators or when a sight impaired person tries to use an ATM machine without Braille signage.  It also recognizes that one may be equally disabled by social stigma” (Davidson 119).

Semantic shifts are governed by society and furthermore shed light to our societal values and structure.  As Davidson continues to argue, this “social model locates disability not in the individual’s impairment, but in the environment—in social attitudes, institutional structures, and physical or communicational barriers that prevent full participation as citizen subject” (Davidson 119).  Calling a person a “retard” or referring to something or someone as “retarded” uses this social model and the act of generalization.  This process of categorizing persons with disabilities creates “the development of specialized treatments and residential and educational services, but also [establishes] and [reinforces] notions of the boundaries between normalcy and aberrance in Western society” (Braddock, and Parish 13).

Not only has the term “retard” been used to classify and/or categorize the neurodiverse, it is also used as a slang term.  The OED’s current slang definition, or also described as the colloquial definition, defines “retard” as “a person (or occasionally a thing) regarded as being mentally or physically deficient, stupid, or incompetent.”  This definition, and its overuse, has the most pejorative connotation regarding the cognitively impaired community because it undoubtedly attempts to “arrange people in ways that are socially and economically convenient to the society” (Linton 9-10).  We see this “convenience” in generalizing within the current medical terms used to label autism and asperger syndrome. Because autism and asperger’s fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity, it is often generalized by the word “retard.”  Because of the stigmas attached to the term “retard” and the similar stigmas attached to autism and asperger’s, the Diagnostic & Statistic Manuel of Mental Disorders is (ironically) generalizing the two terms by embedding them both in the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Reassigning meaning—or a word’s semantics—is an attempt to “wrest control of the language from the previous owners, and reassign meaning to the terminology used to describe disability and disabled people” (Linton 9).

Because the term “retard” is unjust to the cognitively impaired community, Simi Linton—as well as other allies who are attempting to create a consciousness regarding the language used to depict the disabled community—wants a “new language.”  This new language “conveys different meanings, and, significantly, the shifts serve as metacommunications about the social, political, intellectual, and ideological transformations that have taken place over the past two decades” (Linton 9).  Though this modification is specific to disability words, some shift is expected in all words.  Every word—whether through linguistic processes such as amelioration, pejoration, narrowing, etc.—has connotatively altered from its origin.  Not only is it expected, it is inevitable. However it is up to the community to replace generalizing and pejorative terms with applicable, appropriated terms that accurately depict the neurodiverse and physically impaired communities.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jill C. “Just Semantics: The Lost Readings of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Cover story).” Yale Law Journal 117.6 (2008): 992-1069. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Braddock, David, and Susan Parish. “An Institutional History of Disability.” Handbook of Disability Studies. (2008): 11-68. Print.

Davidson, Michael. “Universal Design; The Work of Disability in an Age of Globalization.” Disabilities Studies Reader. 2. (2006): 117-128. Print.

Linton, Simi. “Reassigning Meaning.” Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. (1998): 8-33. Print.

“retard” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 4 Apr. 2000

Written by Matthew

December 9th, 2010 at 11:54 am

Accommodation and Acceptance: Haddon’s Aim Through an Autistic Narrator

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Accommodation and Acceptance: Haddon’s Aim Through an Autistic Narrator

Mary Wilson

Since the medical identification of autism as a cognitive disorder, physicians, people with autism, and activists alike have struggled to project certain perspectives about autism into the public eye.  Some, for instance, view autism as a strictly neurologically based disease which should be researched in an effort to find a cure; these people often view the austistic as someone afflicted with illness, a person who is somehow stunted or ‘stolen away’ by their autism.  Others, contrastingly, perceive autism in a more positive light, as human variation which our culture should accomodate, rather than strive to eliminate.  Both viewpoints gain publicity in a number of ways which influence others into developing either positive or negative attitudes about autism; specifically, advancing the viewpoint of an individual with autism as fundamentally diseased serves only to heighten stereotypes and intolerance for a people.  Combating this viewpoint in his contemporary mystery novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon portrays the character of Christopher Boone, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, as a young man who, although autistic, remains at the forefront of readers’ minds a human being, a celebration of difference and a case for accommodation of disability, rather than elimination of it.

Haddon’s decision to write from Christopher’s perspective immediately places readers within the austistic mind, forcing one to view everyday situations from a different viewpoint, heightening both our sense of understanding and appreciation for the way that the autistic brain functions.  Chris captures our attention quickly as he describes his dead neighbor’s dog “lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn…as if it were running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream” (Haddon 1).  His ability to frankly describe the nature of the animal’s death not only serves to shock and surprise us, but also elicits empathy, for both the innocent victim, Wellington, and for Chris, who reacts to the situation by coping the only way he can (curling into the fetal position) and who is consequently heckled by the police and taken to jail (8).  Chris’s reaction to the murder causes no serious harm to anyone, causing readers to question the purpose of the police officer’s negative attitude toward Chris, one that is born out of intolerance for diversity.  As Jay McInerny of the New York Times states, “Haddon manages to bring us deep inside Christopher’s mind and situates us comfortably within his limited, severely logical point of view, to the extent that we begin to question the common sense and the erratic emotionalism of the normal citizens who surround him, as well as our own intuitions and habits of perception” (McInerny).  Indeed, Chris’s narration, full of informative anecdotes and diagrams demonstrating his thought processes, maintains our initial empathy for Chris throughout the novel, increasing our understanding of people with autism as humans whose brains function differently, not defectively. 

The inclusion of other, more neurotypical characters within the novel also serves to realign readers’ stereotypes of ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ behavior.  For example, Chris’s father, a man who exhibits no signs of cognitive abnormality and who appears both calm and leel headed, kills Wellington, Mrs. Shears’s dog, out of heartbreak, stating that he was angry that “[Mrs. Shears] cared more for that bloody dog than for me, for us” (121).  Here, an unlikely contrast develops between Chris’s austistic yet logical and harmless behavior and his father’s instable emotionalism, causing readers to place Chris’s actions aboce his father’s on a scale of normality and ethics.  Praise for Chris and his strength in the face of deceit also surfaces when he discovers that his mother, whom he had presumed dead, actually ran away from the family, indirectly citing Chris as a cause of stress during a break down he had at the mall and “everyone was staring…and [she] wanted to take [him] out of the shop but [he] wouldn’t let [her]” (107).  Chris’s unfortunate circumstances reinforce the concept of the autistic as a morally worthy and apt individual while placing the ‘normal’ parents in a negative light.  Charlotte Moore of The Gaurdian explains the folly of the adults best when she states, “Christopher’s innocence makes him vulnerable, but it protects him too.  At the end, when order is restored, we see that he is a touchstone for adult behavior.   Those concerned with his welfare have to learn to temper their emotional needs around his autistic inability to compromise.”  Her evaluation clearly asserts the novel’s perspective on autism as that which is to be accommodated.   The ending of the novel, when the adults come together in an attempt to raise Chris in a loving environment, brings catharsis both for the parents (who repent of their intolerant actions) and for readers aliging themselves with Chris.

The novel’s joyful tone reinforces the idea of celebrating difference among human beings.  Despite Chris’s warning that his book “…will not be funny.  I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them” (8), Chris’s logical view of the world often results in deadpan humor, such as when he explains his problem with the metaphor “the apple of my eye,” explaining, “When I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about” (15).  Charlotte Moore further elaborates on the importance of the book’s humor when she states, “It is a funny book, as well as a sad one.  Christopher’s c0mpulsive noting of mundane facts provides comedy…especially in his dealings with the police and his classmates.  And Haddon’s inclusion of diagrams, timetables, maps, even math problems, extends the normal scope of novel-writing and demonstrates the rich idiosyncrasies of the autistic brain” (2).  Jay McInerny agrees that “[Chris’s] inability to interpret basic social cues results in moments of comedy,” which enhance readers’ positive opinion of the autstic narrator.  Through manipulation of humor, Haddon appeals to a basic human mood that unites people regardless of category; by having us laugh with Chris, the author implores us to relate to him, to temporarily disregard his difference, to understand his situation in order to interpret the joy in it.  Through Haddon’s inclusion of subtle comedy we unwittingly find ourselves celebrating Chris’s viewpoint, his difference as positive as we laugh with him, not at him.

Thus, through the use of an autistic viewpoint, comparison between the neurodiverse and supposed normality, and the development of subtle humor, Mark Haddon journeys us into the mind of a cognitively diverse individual in order to arouse both empathy for and admiration of disability as human difference.  It is with viewpoints and works such as Haddon’s that an uninformed or intolerant public can be influenced to realign their misconceptions about disability, reflect on their opinions, and eliminate discrimination in their treatment of others.  It is through celebratory portrayals of autism, like Haddon’s, that a popularization of the viewpoint of tolerance and accommodation can be achieved. 

Works Cited

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Vintage Books.  Random House Inc, New York, 2003.

McInerny, Jay. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Review.” New York Times. June 2003.  December 2010. www.query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905EED81E

Moore, Charlotte. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Review.” The Gaurdian, 2003.  December 2010. http://books.gaurdian.co.uk/review/story/012084.html

Written by mwilson11

December 8th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Allison Miller’s Final Exam: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child

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With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child tells the story about two Japanese parents (Sachicko and Masato) who raise their autistic son Hikaru and their daughter Konan. The manga’s main narrator is Sachiko, a busy, yet calm mother who tells readers about her life as a mom (such as events, feelings, etc). What’s interesting about Sachiko is her perception towards Hikaru’s Autism and how she deals with it. She and her husband try to find ways to work with Hikaru’s Autism rather than struggling with him.  Though they don’t know all about their son’s behavior, they still try to accommodate with him rather than go against him, such as using a schedule so Hikaru has order, using earmuffs to block out the sound when he is in a noisy location, etc. In other words, they do not cave in to other’s perspectives about him. By showing this, Keiko Tobe shows us differences between the perception of autism between Japan and the United States. One can argue that Keiko Tobe creates Japanese parents as more accommodating and empathetic towards Autistic children than American parents in order to prove that  people perceive Autism differently in other cultures. First, one will show the difference between Sachiko’s actions with Hikaru and compare it with the American “I Am Autism” campaign. Next, one will show other people’s perceptions in the manga in comparison to America’s perception.

One way in which Japanese perception empathizes more with Autism is how Hiraku’s parents perceive Autism. They (from previous volumes), seem to be used to making Hikaru’s schedules. However, there are times when new incidents will occur. The question is, how do they deal with it? One incident occurs in episode 2 (page 47) Hiraku touches a woman’s hair on the bus and the woman freaks out. The other people on the bus freaks out by asking what was wrong with Hikaru. Although surprised by this incident, reflects on the experience first. She blames herself by saying, “I shouldn’t have been looking at my notepad.” (52). She apologizes, but quickly transitions to how to accommodate this new habit. She thinks,”He has to push the stop button a little sooner this time. On a day like this, he’ll be in a foul mood if somebody else pushes the button first.” (52) Later, she tries to find a way where Hikaru could keep his hands to himself, which she does by making a fluffy shoulder pad for his backpack (63).  In this episode, rather than thinking about herself and feeling sorry about Hikaru, she tries to find a way to make riding on the bus better without Hikaru acting up again. In other words, she accommodates both the strangers and Hikaru’s need. Compare this with America’s “I am Autism commercial” In this commercial, Autism is as an evil voice where it tells the parents, “…and if you are happily married, I will make sure your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self gain.” By stating what it will do, the voice’s main focus is on the parents rather than the child. Although parents, friends, and family fight back against “Autism”, Americans still think it’s an evil aura that we must get rid of. However, fail to state how they will accommodate their child’s needs. In other words, this perception dramatizes parents’ “suffering” more while sympathizing with themselves and their autistic child. 

Another thing that’s different between Japan’s and America’s perception is other people’s perception about Autism. Here is where reactions may be universally similar in that strangers know that something is different about an autistic child. For example, when the woman pushes Hikaru away from her on the bus, many people on the bus start to observe Hikaru more closely. In return, Hikaru gets scared as well because he needs order so he will not be afraid and confused when travelling to school. One scene that is different is when Sachiko takes Konan to the first grade induction ceremony. There are a couple of mothers who remembered Hikaru from a birthday party (he accidentally peed in his pants). What’s interesting is that call him rude up until another mother mentions that he’s  “handicapped.” However, they don’t really show sign of pitying Hikaru or Sachiko (467). Her mother in law however gets embarrassed. Compare that with the “I Am Autism” commercial. Not only does it induce fear, but creates viewers’ pity of Autism, which makes viewers want to get involve for “finding a cure” for it.  By pitying a person, they cannot empathize with them, but instead sympathize with them. Perhaps American perceptions are more sympathetic because they focus more on either the equality of Autistic children or trying to help organizations find a cure.

What’s also intersting is the affect of sympathizing. Because American’s perception seems to be more about sympathizing, people either try to help these organizations or try to stay away from that person. However, Sachiko confronts her mother-in-law about Hikaru when she says that she was embarrassed by him. Sachiko states, “I preferred my neighbors to know about Hiraku…In fact, they helped us so many times.” (476). By bringing in neighbors and friends, Tobe creates a community that helps accommodate Hikaru’s needs in order for him to function in the real world. She wants people to know that her son is Autistic so that he can live in the real world when he grows up. She brings up a very good point by saying that now is not the time to be embarrassed, but to help accommodate their child instead of pitying themselves.

Perceptions of Autism will be different in other cultures, but that doesn’t mean one’s perception is better than the other. Japan does empathize more than America, while America sympathizes more than Japan. However, both nations could learn from one another in order to use these two perceptions together to build a better system that will help their children’s needs.

Word Count: 996

Written by library1288

December 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Robert’s Final – Mukhopadyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

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Cognitive Poetry: Mukhopadhyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

We would normally expect the metaphor of the sun as a scrambled egg to be associated with sunrise, dawn, or morning. In “The Sunset Hour,” however, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay unexpectedly associates this with the setting sun. This reversed association – or, at least reversed for most neurotypical readers – strengthens Mukhopadyay’s poetic style. Reading his work, neurotypical readers must visualize and combine normally unrelated images and concepts. For the neurotypical reader, this experience might mirror an autistic person’s experience reading neurotypical literature. In “The Sunset Hour,” as in many of Mukhopadyay’s poems, unexpected metaphors and associations create a uniquely stimulating cognitive poetic experience. Many of our expectations of sunset – comfort, security, and routine – are presented alongside of discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos.

Sunset can be associated with positive concepts of rest or returning home. “The Sunset Hour” partially holds true to this. Two birds sat on the electric wires and were “chatting perhaps about each other’s nests,” (4-5) like humans gossiping about their home life at the end of another long and eventful day. The next line of the poem, however, provides an unanticipated context to this otherwise domestic scene; while the birds chatted, the “light of the sun got scrambled” (6). Scrambling, as discussed earlier, carries connections to breakfast and morning. By inverting this connection, Mukhopadyay provides us with an interesting and logical perspective: eggs can be scrambled at any time of day.

From yet another perspective, however, scrambling is hectic and far from homey. Throughout much of the poem, Mukhopadyay presents several uncomfortable images that contrast with the comforting images of the sunset hours. The “downtown seemed to tremble” and “the streets were…congested” (7-8), highlighting an all too common reality of sunset and the end of the day: after work traffic. This contrasts with the earlier image of cozy domestic avian conversations and reinforces Mukhopadyay’s realistic perspective on this often cliché hour of the day. Reading further, we learn that “the cars, too, seemed scrambled” as their drivers rushed home “as restlessly / as the city veering into purple” (13-15). To get home to cozy conversations about their “nests,” the people must put up with uncomfortable traffic.

Purple appears many times throughout the poem – 4 out of 6 stanzas – and brings with it implications of bruising or shadow. As expected, sunset can be viewed as “darkness” arriving in a literal and figurative way. In this poem, though, purple serves more to convey the pain of a sunset. Returning to the notion of scrambling, we might think that, in response to the sun’s no doubt painful scrambling, the earth turning purple (3) and “the pavement turning purple” (9) function as the sun’s bruises.

Mukhopadyay ends the poem with a return to comforting images. “The street lamps lit up as usual / glowing through the darkness,” (16-17) even as the sun finally disappeared from view “into a tomb of velvet purple” (19). Like the rest of the poem, we encounter here a continued struggle between comfort, security, and routine – the streetlamps turn on the same as always – and discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos – the streets clogging, the sun dying, the sun scrambling. Rethinking sunset with these metaphors, as Mukhopadyay says in “More than a thing to ignore: an interview with TRM” by Ralph James Savarese, “becomes the stepping stone to better cognition.”

[Words: 549]

Written by Robert

December 8th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Rebecca Foust is a best seller!

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While browsing The Poetry Foundation website, I took a look at their best seller lists. They have separate ones for large press contemporary poets, children’s publications, anthologies, and small press contemporary poets. For the week of November 7th, 2010, Rebecca Foust and Lorna Stevens’ book God, Seed: Poetry and Art about the Natural World was #4 on the small press release best seller list.

Rebecca Foust was, of course, one of our poets during our autism poetry unit. I got very excited when I saw that she was on this list because I thought the book might feature some of her work about raising her son, who,  I believe, has Asperger’s. This particular collection doesn’t seem to feature any poetry directly about her son or her experience with him, but it is neat that the voice of an author within the autism community (if not a main part) is getting some attention from the press.

Written by Helen

November 22nd, 2010 at 5:48 pm

max vid link

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in case anybody might want to check it out, for the take-home or just for fun, here is the link michael rasbury provided for his powerpoint videos on max understood :

Go to http://www.michaelrasbury.com/maxunderstood.htm and look at the top of the page in the line that has the links to the script, synopsis, etc.  You’ll see a new “video” link that will take you to a page with a list of all the movies.

Written by cfoss

November 19th, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Posted in autism and 21st-c lit

Tagged with ,

switaj change

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the link for switaj’s “i am autism” no longer seems to work, so here’s a replacement poemm for you:

Irresistible Investment: The Autism Cure


cosmoramic ululations of the present
I quoted, vowelized
chelations of a language
instead of blood & capricious
metals kill my kin
reprobates of mind & how
to shake a hand exulting
capricious progeny

in what we do not understand

thrasher you could live
among exploded people
who do not think
like you

if you want to see the poem’s actual visual form, you can find by scrolling to the bottom of this page

Written by cfoss

November 15th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Eye-opening Documentary: “Autism is a World”

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This five-part documentary features a twenty-six year old woman named Sue Rubin, and follows her perspective throughout her life with autism. She explains what it is like to live with autism in a non-autistic world, attends college, experiences a transition in primary care, and interviews specialists as she tries to develop her own answer to the enduring question: What is Autism?

The entire series is a bit lengthy at about an hour total, but I highly recommend it to anyone in our class (and outside of our class) who has lingering questions about autism.


Written by Katherine Sullivan

November 14th, 2010 at 11:54 am

Child with Autism Connects with Kinect

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Hey everyone!

I found this interesting article about a child with autism able to play with a  gaming device called Kinect. In the past, he had trouble with other video games because of the controller. I looked up what Kinect was and found that it’s a new gaming device that’s controller free for the Xbox 360. It uses a sensor device with motion, face and word recognition. Players interact using hand, and body motions.

What’s your opinion on the article? What about Kinect and Autism?

Here is the link!

Written by library1288

November 12th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

autism videos

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Written by cfoss

November 10th, 2010 at 1:20 pm