Whether you're working on a developmental goal like expanding social skills or you simply want to have a little low-key fun, games are a great way to connect with children with autism. The best games for kids on the spectrum build on the child's interests while encouraging active participation and communication. From printables you can download at home to games you can purchase in store and online, you'll have no shortage for fun and interactive options.
Free Games for Children with Autism
You don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy playing games with your child. Try some of these free printable games and no-cost game ideas.
If you need help downloading the printables, check out these helpful tips.
Facial Expression Memory Game
Recognizing facial expressions can be a challenge for many children with ASD; however, visual perception can also be a great strength for these kids. This memory game builds on the visual strengths, allowing the child to feel successful and encouraged. As you play, you can discuss the meaning behind the facial expressions and what makes each facial expression different from the others. This game is ideal for preschoolers on the spectrum.
Here's how you play:
- Print out the memory cards at home on heavyweight paper. Cut them out.
- Lay all the cards face down in a grid on the table.
- Each player can take turns turning over two cards. If the cards are a matched pair, the player can set them aside and turn over another pair. If they are not a match, the player returns the cards face-down to the grid and the other player takes a turn.
- The player with the most matched pairs is a winner.
Step Together Board Game
Asking and answering questions requires a high level of engagement, and this can present a problem for some children with autism. This game requires a child to listen for answers, take turns, and ask the adult questions, all important skills for conversation. If it is appropriate for your child, you can expand the game by requiring the child to make eye contact before you agree to move the piece.
This is a great game for toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary students. However, depending on the child's functioning level, this may be appropriate for other ages. Here's how to play:
- Print out the game board and movement piece using cardstock. Consider reinforcing the movement piece by laminating it.
- Place the game board on a table between the child and an adult or a peer. Both players should grasp the movement piece, lining it up with the toes of the first set of footprints on each side.
- One player must ask the other, "Will we step?"
- The other player must answer with "Yes" or "No." If the player says "Yes," both players can move the movement piece to the next set of footprints. If the player says "No," neither player can move.
- Take turns until you reach the end of the footprints. As your child becomes familiar with the game, you can vary the language or add backward movements into the mix.
Work-Together Treasure Hunt
Combining different types of learning is a great way to keep kids with autism interested in a game. In this treasure hunt, children must work together or with an adult to find a prize. They'll use visual processing, strengthen communication and literacy skills, and use their bodies to participate. This game is perfect for older children, since it works best if they can read the cards. However, younger children will enjoy this game when they play with an adult who can help them.
Here's how you play:
- Print out the free treasure map and clue cards.
- Hide a prize somewhere in the room. Write out clues on each of the clue cards, or draw simple pictures for younger children. Each clue will lead the child to the next clue card. Hide the clue cards in order, and present the first clue card to the child.
- As the child follows the clues, he or she can draw a map. This is a great way to translate spatial information, which can be challenging for some children with autism.
- When the child finds the prize, he or she is the winner!
Preposition Position Game
Directions can be challenging for any child, but they can be especially difficult for a kid on the autism spectrum. This game builds on visual strengths to introduce communication concepts.
This game is designed for up to four players. Here's how you play:
- Print out the game board, markers, and preposition words, and cut them out.
- Place all the preposition words face down on the table. Have each child select the marker he or she would like to use. Orient the game board so it is facing the children.
- Each player takes turns drawing a preposition from the pile and placing his or her marker in a spot on the board. For instance, a child might draw the word "under." He would place his marker under something on the game board, such as the slide. Then he would say, "I am under the slide."
- Provide a reward for each correct preposition. Depending on the social dynamic of the group, children can compete with one another or simply enjoy the game.
Red Light - Green Light
You may have played this game growing up, and it's a great option for children with autism. It reinforces listening skills and encourages peer interaction.
To play, gather a group of children together. One child gets to be the stoplight, and the other children must stand in a row several feet away. When the stoplight says "Green light!," all the children in the line may begin to move. When he or she says "Red light!," they must stop. Children who do not stop are "out." This winner is the last child left on the field.
Another playground favorite, Simon Says is ideal for children with ASD. This game requires children to engage with peers and listen for subtle conversational cues.
To play Simon Says, a large group of children can line up. An adult then tells the children to do some movement, such as "stick out your leg." If the adult prefaces the command with the words "Simon says...," the children are to perform the action. If the adult does not say "Simon says...," the children should not make the movement. Children who move when they aren't supposed to are "out," and the last child remaining in the game is the winner.
Board Games You Can Purchase
Children with autism can play and enjoy a large variety of board games, and many of these games can teach important social and communication concepts. Turn-taking games, in particular, are very helpful for preschool and early elementary school students. Try some of these popular options:
- Pictionary is great for practicing fine motor skills and for strengthening peer interactions and communication.
- Scrabble Junior is ideal for children with Asperger's or high functioning autism, since it may build on some of their strengths.
- Uno is perfect for turn-taking and interacting with peers.
- Boggle Junior also strengthens turn-taking and communication skills.
- Guess Who? is ideal for children who have trouble recognizing and describing faces.
- Chutes and Ladders is a fun turn-taking game that is perfect for expanding communication.
Games Specifically for Autism
The Internet has game resources for children with autism. You can find safe and appropriate online games and game information at the following websites:
- Autism Games: This site has videos and articles with information on games for people with autism.
- Children Succeed: Children Succeed offers seven games and learning tools for children with autism. Please see the interview with Joan Nash, the founder of Children Succeed.
- Special Needs Toys and Sensory Solutions: This site sells games and toys suitable for children with autism.
- Autism Inspiration: This is a subscription-based autism resource site that has online games and game information.
Choosing a Game
When choosing games for children with autism, it's important to consider several important factors to ensure the experience is a success. Keep the following in mind:
- Any special interests the child might have
- The child's age
- The child's developmental level
- Any social or language goals you want to address
- The child's attention span
- Whether peers are available to participate
An Amazing Tool
Games offer an amazing tool for working with children on the autism spectrum. You can use games to encourage desirable behaviors, connect with your child emotionally in a relaxed way, and facilitate interaction with peers. Most of all, games are a great way to share a simple, low-key experience with your child.