Dad hopes to give LCCVI parents the gift of connection with their autistic children

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative Photo Jaime Jolly and Keegan Hornbostel take a turn at a new game at LCCVI’s special education department along with Mike Primeau.

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

With a little help from his friends, Mike Primeau and the Playroom Experiment have realized the goal of installing a pinball machine at LCCVI.

And they’re hoping the idea will catch on with every high school in the county.

Adorned with John, Paul, George and Ringo, along with their trademark instruments, the new Beatles themed toy was unveiled in the alternative learning space of LCCVI last week. Vice principal Scott Watson was on hand and played a few rounds of the bumper game with students.

As fun as the game is, Primeau explains there’s a lot more to the activity than meets the eye.

Primeau’s son has autism and he says stimulating activities like video games and pinball helped them connect.

“I used gaming to come to his world and validate him as a person… When he was being validated as he was, he began to use gaming spaces as a way to embrace social convention outlets,” says Primeau. Their favourite activities were playing Pac-Man and a pinball machine in their home.

Primeau has noticed positive steps in both his son’s behaviour and schoolwork after finding this connection.

“During that time I learned a lot and he taught me really important life lessons about being good and being empathetic, which are very different things.”

Primeau would invite other parents and their kids over to play and connect. A few times a year they would all go to the Microsoft store at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto for mass gaming sessions.

But COVID closed the door on these group gatherings. So Primeau asked,“What would happen if we brought this to the school where it could exist everyday?”

Primeau got in touch with fellow Wallaceburg native Watson and the two began collaborating. “He’s moved mountains for us,” says Primeau.

Soon the Playroom Experiment had raised $12,000 in just eight months. In addition to the pinball machine this allowed them to add a $2,000 board games library and a Nintendo Switch video game to the Petrolia classroom.

And the kids are involved with the work, too. Keegan Hornbostel is the inaugural student ambassador for the program and will design accessible Super Mario levels for kids to play. Future ambassadors will contribute in different ways to the program.

“Essentially what we’re doing is creating a space where anyone can play with anyone and we can start to really break barriers when it comes to social isolation,” says Primeau.

“Even if you have kids that aren’t living with special needs, kids are struggling to reach out when they’re having a hard time. And we want this space to serve that purpose.”

Primeau says there’s still work to be done in Petrolia. The group is seeking donations to help maintain the program including software, new games and upkeep. He credits the Petrolia TD Bank, Sarnia’s District Beta gaming centre and a strong international response for their help so far.

Primeau calls back to his son for the original inspiration and for his motivation going forward.

“It’s unbelievable how this has changed this boy’s life.

“And this is the same gift we want to give to kids at the school.”

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