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How 'Pokemon Go' Is Changing Kids' Lives

Photograph by University of Michigan Health System

We've all heard the horror stories about "Pokémon Go," but as these last few weeks since the game's launch have shown, there's a lot of good happening, too.

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan is using the app in the best way possible: to help kids at the hospital feel a little braver and a little more comfortable.

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The hospital's new digital media manager, J.J. Bouchard, knew he was onto something big when he brought up the idea of "Pokémon Go" to his team.

"It was actually the first time that I really didn't have to present anything. As soon as I came in I had 20 emails saying 'Have you seen this game? This is great,'" he told Today.

Bouchard's goal is to find new technology that have recreational and therapeutic benefits for kids, and the viral app does just the trick.

The team made the game their own, educating everyone and outlining safety guidelines so it doesn't interfere with daily hospital operations. They even set up Pokémon hotspots so people know where they can play. Because of their efforts, the children's hospital is turning that addictive nature of video games into something positive and encouraging patients to be active.

"I think one of the unique things about the game itself is that you can totally enter a new world, but still see yourself," said Jamie Mayo, a rehabilitation engineer at Mott. "It really normalizes the hospital experience for these kids. It distracts them from painful procedures, and lets them escape from what may be a scary environment to them."

Photograph by University of Michigan Health System

"Pokémon Go" has also been a life-changing experience for a boy from New York, Ralphie Koppelman. The 6-year-old has autism spectrum disorder and hyperlexia; he usually has difficulty holding conversations with strangers and looking people in the eye.

But from the get-go of playing the game, Ralphie has been smiling, laughing and high-fiving, and even began looking kids he had never met in the eye. And instead of being made fun of at the playground, Ralphie is now more accepted. His mom, Lenore Koppelman, detailed the deep change in her viral Facebook post and explained how Ralphie never wanted to go to the playground but is now begging to go.

Koppelman tells Us Weekly, “Ralphie normally wants to sit at home and draw at his drawing table. We usually have to force him to leave the house. But once this game came along, he asks to go for walks now. And that’s exciting.”

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Educators are even incorporating the game into their curriculum to teach and engage students with autism, reports Education Week. According to Craig Smith, an administrator at the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Australia, people with autism are typically visual learners, which makes the visual and real-time experience of "Pokémon Go" very effective. With his encouragement, students could explore their community, go outdoors and engage with other kids.

"For many of the children I teach, it's hard to engage in social activities—even going down to the shops can be socially overwhelming," Smith said. "But what we're seeing with the Pokémon craze is the same students are making conversation and engaging in social activities through the game."

And it truly is a sight to behold.

Photograph by Facebook

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