Last week I blogged about how I use board games to help teach turn taking skills to kids with ASD. I’ve been asked what games I recommend and while I have some general guidelines and games that I always try out, not every game will be a hit with every kid. I mentioned last time that Chutes and Ladders can be tricky as there is an element of chance in it, but it doesn’t have any text to read (a great thing in a kid’s game) and some kids really love the game. Some games come in character variant like Dora the Explorer or Transformers so that they engage kids’ interest. If you can find a game the child is interested in, that’s half the battle right there – they’ve bought in. So, what games do I have in my stash for kids with ASD? It’s probably not what you’d expect.
I love to start with Guess Who? for kids who already have verbal skills because it helps them learn to ask questions as well as being a very visually based game. As a bonus, the faces also have expressions on them so you can re-use the board for teaching emotions. The game is really easy to learn and if there are any issues with which questions to ask, you can provide a list or give them some suggestions. Guess Who isn’t noisy – the loudest noise it makes is when the “wrong” pictures are flipped down – and if you do it quietly, it mitigates that nicely. There are versions without the faces – with animals or Disney characters so depending on what you want you can get a different version, though I prefer the original with the faces.
For kids whose verbal skills aren’t quite advanced enough, or for younger children, Lucky Ducks by Milton Bradley is a great beginner game. There are 12 ducks each with symbols on their undersides. The first person to find 3 ducks with matching symbols wins. It’s simple but still a lot of fun. Another great option for kids who can’t yet read is the ever-popular Candy Land. Candy Land is easy to play, requires no reading, just matching of colours and pictures. As a note, I recommend the “classic” version of the game shown in the link over the newer “bookshelf” style as the game board is sturdier and the spinner works better.
A great introduction to basic strategy games is the ever popular Connect 4. I played this game a lot as a kid, it was fun and fairly quick but it taught some important lessons on strategy. Do you go for the win and leave yourself possibly exposed? It’s all a balancing act and Connect 4 does it well. The original game pieces (not so much the knock offs or travel versions) have textures around the edges that make them easier to pick up for kids with fine motor issues. The game is a little noisy, especially at game end when all the plastic pieces are released but playing on a placemat or tablecloth dampens the sound considerably.
My all time favourite games to start with though, are Co-operative games. There are dozens of games to choose from, so you can pick one that works with the interests of the child. (If you click on the link above, it has the full list that Amazon offers.) They all have one thing in common – all players work as a team to win the game. This is great for two reasons. Firstly, it eliminates some of the competitiveness of the game and helps kids focus on playing together instead of as opponents. Secondly, it helps encourage good turn taking skills because what other players do on their turn directly impacts your turn so there is incentive to pay attention even when it is not your turn to move. As an added bonus, many of these games teach extra skills –Harvest Time, for example teaches kids about the seasons and how crops grow through spring and summer and are harvested in fall before winter. These games are geared towards everybody winning, but be aware that everybody can lose as well. When that happens, I usually start a discussion about what we might have done differently to win the game and then test out the theory by re-playing the game. (The answer to “what could we have done differently to win the game?” is always “helped each other more” – another nice feature of the games.) The Co-operative games are great because they engage the kids but aren’t so annoying that adults don’t want to play them repeatedly.
As a rule, I stay away from games like Perfection because when the timer goes off and the pieces are launched, it can be loud and frightening for some kids, also some of the pieces go flying and are hard to find! Hungry Hungry Hippos is very fast paced which is good, but it’s also really noisy with all the marbles on the plastic tray, which can be really hard on some sensory kiddos. The family favourite game Uno comes in many variants (Disney Frozen , Angry Birds , and even Disney Planes so you can pick a character variant that your kid is into. For beginners, there are different character editions of My First Uno, such as My First UNO Jake and Never Land Pirates Edition which feature larger cards and pictures to help with pattern recognition (for example, all 6s have the same character on them so the players can match the numbers OR the pictures). There are less cards so the deck has to be shuffled more with the My First Uno games, but they’re a good introduction to the game. My only warning with Uno as a whole, is that if you’re just introducing turn taking games, hold off on this one awhile. The reverse direction cards can throw newly minted turn takers for a loop. The skip a turn feature can also lead to some crankiness so it’s better to wait a bit before introducing Uno.
For older kids who love to find patterns, you can’t beat the classic card game Set. Set was one of my favourite indoor recess games, and I own a copy now and still love playing it. To create a ‘set’, a player must locate three cards in which each of the four features is either all the same on each card or all different on each card, when looked at individually. The four features are, symbol (oval, squiggle or diamond), color (red, purple or green), number (one, two or three) or shading (solid, striped or open). You can play the game on your own, in turns, or competitively which makes it a great game to grow on. I usually recommend it for ages 10 and up but have played with younger kids who can understand the rules of how to make a set, and have enough of a tolerance for frustration that they can spend the time needed to look for the set in the cards laid out.
These are my top go-to games when I’m working on turn taking or just enjoying the social aspect of games. I tend to stay away from noisy games, games that need batteries, and games with long turn times until the habit of gaming is firmly established. I don’t have any games specifically made for people with ASD, such as ones that directly teach social skills, mostly because I don’t think you always need to get specialized equipment, and it’s good to expose kids to games they may see in the classroom or at a friend’s house. Do you have any favourite family games at your house? I’d love to know what they are. I wrote about my favourite games right now in a post here.