For many children with autism spectrum disorders, computer games are a great teaching aid for furthering therapy goals, encouraging communication, and developing important social skills. The key is to choose a game that has a proven track record.
8 Great Games for Kids with Autism
Recognizing and interpreting facial expressions and features can be a challenge for children with autism, and the game FaceSay directly targets this skill. In fact, a 2007 study presented at a meeting of the Association of Psychological Science found that the game effectively improved kids' ability to read facial expressions and even initiate social interaction. The game shows kids how to focus on specific facial features and even read eye gaze, using numbers and fun scenarios. A home of the game version starts at $79 and is available on the FaceSay website.
Let's Face It!
Another great game that focuses on facial recognition and feature interpretation, Let's Face It was created by the Yale Child Study Centre and the University of Victoria Brain and Cognition Lab. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that a short and intensive session of game playing markedly improved kids' facial recognition skills. The game first teaches kids to attend to specific facial areas that show emotion, such as the eyes and mouth. Then it rewards correct identification of the emotions presented. This game is available for free at the Let's Face It website.
This two-player computer game is designed to improve auditory processing. Since auditory processing, or the ability to understand and integrate material that's presented through spoken words, can be a challenge for kids on the spectrum, this game is a popular therapy tool. According to a study from the University of Oregon, this program slightly increased phonological awareness in kids who played the game. Earobics is sold by Different Roads and retails for about $65.
Life Skills Winner
Daily self-care skills, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, and packing a backpack, are another area of challenge for some children with autism, and the game Life Skills Winner focuses on this area. Created by a person with autism and recommended by Autism Speaks, this game pairs points and rewards with successful completion of basic life tasks. It also has a mobile version. You can try the game for free at the official Life Skills Winner website, and you can also subscribe for five dollars per month.
This fun computer game focused on reading and vocabulary is on MindWare's list of the top games for kids with autism spectrum disorders. The game, which involves a race to learn the alphabet, targets reading and language skills in children at a preschool developmental level. You can buy Reader Rabbit on Amazon.com for about $15.
An article by autism expert and renowned adult with autism Temple Grandin in Autism Asperger's Digest discusses both the benefits and pitfalls of using computer games with children on the autism spectrum. She recommends the game Foldit, a fun game that allows kids to help solve puzzles to further scientific research. With appropriate support, games like FoldIt can help a child feel valued and successful. You can download Foldit for free.
In her article, Temple Grandin also recommends social simulation games like The Sims. The Sims allows kids to create characters and watch how those characters interact with one another and with other characters online. You can buy a starter pack of The Sims for about $30.
The Feelings Game and Faceland
The ASHA Leader, which is the official newsletter of the American Speech and Hearing Association, recommends The Feelings Game from Do2Learn as a great computer game for identifying feelings. The simple online game quizzes kids about the meaning of specific facial expressions through photographs. The Feelings Game acts as a free preview of Faceland, a more involved, amusement park-themed game with the same goal of improving facial decoding. Faceland is available from the Do2Learn website and retails for $179.
A Valuable Learning Tool
Because many children with autism enjoy computers, software games can be a valuable learning tool. However, it's essential that the game be from a reputable source and have endorsements or evidence to support its use with children on the autism spectrum. That way, you'll know you're choosing a game that will help your child learn necessary skills, rather than simply purchasing a form of entertainment.