During play, children practice social skills such as turn taking, cooperation, and sharing. While children with ASD can experience these lessons by playing games with their peers, some may need to be explicitly taught and supported through adaptations of such games. This article aims to outline adaptations of commonly played games for children with ASD.
While each game can have their own adaptations, here are some general recommendations that can be applied for any social play situation:
The child should be prepared for what they will experience during the game.
The child should understand the objective of the game, and what they are being asked to do before starting the game.
The child should have the chance to ask questions and share feelings about the game.
The child should have opportunities to develop their social skills.
Now, let’s discuss some common games and how they can be adapted for children with ASD.
1. Hide & Seek
This is a classic game for children which can be an excellent choice for kids with ASD as it does not require social interaction to work. However, one should take safety precautions when playing the game as it may encourage some dangerous behaviors like running and hiding. Here’s how it can be adapted:
Play the game in an enclosed area (e.g., inside a house, or a fenced-in space).
Ensure the child is aware of the boundaries (e.g., places that are unsafe for hiding, such as the fridge, washing machine, oven, in trees, in drains etc.)
Provide a visual support so they are able to understand the sequence of how the game plays out (e.g., the seeker counts to 20, everyone else hides, the seeker finds friends, then we take turns to seek).
Provide visual supports to encourage the use of language models. This can include commonly used phrases relevant to the game such as “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” “I found you,” “You found me.”
Hiding quietly and waiting may not be easy for the child, give them something quiet they can fidget with to help them (e.g., a soft toy, play dough, a book to look at).
2. Simon Says
Children with ASD often thrive in predictable situations where they know what to do next. Simon says may be a little daunting for them, given that any actions could be called out. Here are some adaptations for Simon Says:
Select only a few actions that “Simon” can choose from and provide visual supports. This reduces the number of possible actions and can help the child be successful in following.
Similarly, giving a few choices would allow the child to choose more easily if they were “Simon.”
Remove the “out” rule (e.g., if you do the action without hearing “simon says,” you’re out). This can remove the pressures and negative feelings of being “out.”
This game can be used to practice desired actions such as (e.g., waving, standing straight, sitting down nicely, etc.).
Physical games such as catch can be slightly easier for children with ASD as it does not require too much social interaction. However, it can be difficult to understand the concept of being “it,” how to tag others, and the appropriate area to play in.
Here are some adaptations:
Play tag in an enclosed area. This is an incredibly important safety precaution especially if the child is known to run away.
If an enclosed area is not an option, allow the child to preview the area so that they can be aware of the boundaries before the game begins.
Incorporate a visual aid or social story to clarify the rules of catch (e.g., one person is the catch or “it,” if the tagger lightly touches another person, they become it).
Prepare a visual marker for the person who is “it” so it is clear who is the tagger (e.g., a ribbon, a jersey, or hat).
Play is an incredibly important part of any child’s development. Adapting games to your child’s needs will help them reap the benefits of play in a safe and engaging way. The main takeaway is... In order for your child to be successful in participating in these games, the rules and boundaries need to be understood. And with enough support and practice, your child will surely have plenty of fun playing these games with friends!
Written by Aileen.