Does your family ever get together for family game nights? Learning new games, connecting as a family, and practicing social skills, are some of the many benefits of this quality time spent together. Creating a weekly routine with an engaging family game night is important for a child with autism because it promotes consistent routines, helps them understand group behaviors, and provides an opportunity for positive interactions with their parents and siblings.
Playing games help children develop their social and communication skills by interacting and cooperating as a group, which also helps them make friends, practice turn-taking, and learn how to better navigate certain social interactions. Children with autism benefit from being taught games with supported reinforcement and adaptations in order to experience success. Any game can be turned into an autism-friendly growth activity with proper explanation, clarification, and adaptations to the rules and gameplay if necessary.
There are a few things to remember to best set your child up for success when learning new games.
- Prepare your child for what the game will entail, using ‘First, then’ language to explain the steps, so they have a clear understanding of what they will be required to do.
- Give the opportunity for questions and clarification so they are less likely to express challenging behaviors during gameplay.
- Provide opportunities for practicing the game skills and understanding the objective of the game before playing with peers.
- Because every individual is different and unique in their own way, each adaptation or activity will depend on your child’s specific skill set for the best ways for them to be successful.
Family game night can include all types of games! Board games, video games, cards, and puzzles can help to improve cognitive skills and fine motor skills. With some time for review, clarification, and adaptation for each new game, your family can hopefully play well together. For example, when starting with a board game, help your child become familiar with the board and explain all routes and spaces clearly. While taking turns during gameplay, pass around a physical object; this will help your child to know when their next turn is and practice being patient while waiting.
We spoke with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) at BY YOUR SIDE to ask for a few family game night suggestions, and they are:
- Hedbanz: This type of game is similar to charades, except each player wears their noun card as a headband on their head for everyone to help them guess. This game is great for playing in groups, giving the opportunity for positive sibling and family interaction. In addition, Hedbanz will help your child learn new descriptions for objects while reading the body language of the players as well.
- Outdoor games: There are a plethora of games that can be played outside, either at school, at home, or in a park environment. Practice playing games at home with your child, such as Hide and Seek, Hopscotch, or Red Light, Green Light, so they can be more comfortable with joining in at school with classmates or initiating play with others. Playing Tag is also easy to learn, and fun to play in groups! Make sure to provide clear boundaries when outside, and if elopement is a concern, try an indoor facility instead while still providing boundaries. To help your child become more successful, provide a social story or visual aid for teaching the rules. Also, try using a visual marker for whoever is ‘it’, such as a hat, jersey, or flag. The benefits of outdoor games such as Tag, include your child becoming more comfortable in initiating actions like ‘You’re it!’ and being involved in positive social interaction between multiple peers or individuals.
Playing games in groups allows children time to learn and connect to improve their social and cognitive skills. Once your child has preferred games they like to play, start introducing new and more complex games over time to further enhance their skills. In the end, having regular family game nights or just fun family quality time can have a strong impact on your child that can lead to more positive outcomes for you and your family.