Board games can be a great way to teach socializing and other skills to autistic children, but not all board games out there are equally good. Below I summarize some of the main benefits board games can provide as well as things you should be aware of when selecting a game for your autistic child.
Playing board games can provide many benefits including:
- Board games that focus on symbols rather than words can be effective for improving communication skills
- Board games can teach children how to take turns
- Provide a structured format for socializing
- Provide a safe way to learn how to handle frustration and emotions
- Teach math skills
- Teach planning and problem solving
- Improve memorization
- Improve hand-eye coordination
- Teach them how to follow directions (and related to this, teach parents how to give instructions)
Improve Communication Skills
Because autistic children tend to think visually rather than in words, board games that use symbols and colors can provide a good way for them to express themselves and communicate.
See related article: How Autistic Children Think Differently
Teach Children How to Take Turns
Turn taking is a social cue, and as with many other social cues, autistic children generally find these hard to understand. Autism expert Temple Grandin says board games can provide a safe and fun environment for autistic kids to learn about turn taking.
Provide a Structured Format for Socializing
Autistic children like structure and repetition. One mother says that her high-functioning autistic son loves board game nights because they provide him a structured format for socializing both with family, friends, and strangers (via game conventions!).
Handle Frustration and Emotions
Games teach children how to win and lose gracefully, and this is no different for autistic children. Additionally autistic children often have more problems controlling emotional outbursts than non-autistic children making incorporating games into their activities even more important.
See related post: Autistic Behaviors to Keep in Mind When Deciding What Toy to Buy
Games are great “brain food” because they test memory, planning, and problem solving skills
Improve Motor Skills
Some games, such as the Rubiks Cube, can improve motor skills and eye hand coordination.
Teach how to follow directions
Autism interventionist Steffany Garcia says that board games “reinforce the need to follow directions” and are a good way to teach autistic youngsters when it’s ok to create their own game rules and when they should follow the official game rules.
However, playing games with autistic children brings some challenges as well, include:
- Explaining rules can be difficult.
- You may have to modify the game rules to fit your child’s inclinations/abilities
- Small parts can be a choking hazard, especially for low-functioning autistics
One mother says that she found it challenging at first to teach her autistic child the rules for a game. She says that “ you cannot use a literal term, such as “roll the dice”, as they will literally roll it along the floor rather than throw it, as they take every phrase at face value. I have to really think about what I am saying when giving instructions.”
You May Have to Modify Game Rules
Each autistic child is different. As a result, some games just may not suit them well. You can sometimes get around this by modifying how the game is played to suit their strengths and also to tailor them for the skills you want to teach your child.
Beware Small Parts
Low-functioning autistics are especially prone to put things in their mouth past the age when non-autistics would not. In some cases you will need to make sure that the age recommendations on the game box apply to your child.
Here’s a list of some games that might work well for your child. Click the links to read more about each game where I’ve had a chance to take a closer look at the game:
- Rory’s Magic Cubes
- Candy Land
- Ticket to Ride
- Connect Four
What other insights do you have to share regarding using board games with your child? Please comment!