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.
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 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 you 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.
Break the ice in new situations or classrooms with this fun, interactive game. Kids are challenged to move around the room talking to others as they try to find someone who matches each square on their Bingo board. This game is great for children with autism because they learn how to communicate with others and ask pointed questions. Some traits listed on the Bingo board are geared toward adults, so this game is best played in a classroom with one or more teachers or a group of parents with their children. This game is best for older kids who can read but can be played by kids of all ages with help from an adult.
Here's how you play:
- Print out a Bingo board for each player.
- Once everyone has a board, players start moving around the room engaging each other in conversation to find a person who fits at least one description on the board.
- When a player finds someone who fits a description, he writes that person's name in the square with the description.
- Remove the competitive element of making a row before anyone else and instead set a time limit of five or ten minutes for the game. When time is up, each player counts how many squares they filled. Everyone who participates is a winner.
Princess in Training Board Game
Expressing emotions and understanding others can be problematic for kids with ASD. In this printable board game, children perform simple tasks that ask them to look, sound, act, or think like a princess. Since you can play with two to four players, children can share the fun of this game with a trusted adult or play with a few friends. Either way, they'll learn empathy, social skills, turn-taking, and stepping outside of their comfort zone. Children of all ages can play, but kids under age seven would benefit from an adult assistant.
Here's how to play:
- Print and cut out the game board, game pieces, game cards, and rules.
- Gather a six-sided die, paper, and crayons.
- Place the game board in the center of the playing area so all players can reach all sections of the game board.
- Place the game cards in the designated spots and give each player a Crown Room Board.
- Each player selects a princess and places her on the matching castle.
- Players take turns rolling and moving their piece around the game board. On each turn, players must perform a task to earn a crown of the color space they've landed on. If the child does a good job completing the task, she earns a crown. If she is unable to perform the task, there is no penalty.
- The first player to earn all five color crowns wins the game.
The You Game
Building self-esteem is an integral part of life for all kids, but especially for kids with autism who may have trouble understanding who they are and what values they adhere to. In this simple board game, everyone is a winner, and you can play with an unlimited number of participants. As players move around the game board, each space offers directions on something nice to say about yourself or others. Communication skills and self-awareness are explored along with healthy self-esteem. You'll also need a standard die and small objects to use as game pieces players can move on the board.
Here's how you play:
- Print out The You Game board and place in between all players.
- Place your game pieces on Start and take turns rolling the die to move around the board.
- When you land on a space, read the directions then come up with things to say based on these directions.
- The game is over when when a player lands on the last space, but there is no designated winner. The game ends with a self-hug for each player to celebrate themselves.
Guess Who I Am
Encourage critical thinking skills and group interaction with this ice breaker game. Each player writes down or draws three things about themselves that is unique on a slip of paper, then other players try to guess who filled out each slip. The nature of this game makes it best for larger groups of at least five kids. Children who can't write or draw can choose images from magazines or stickers to glue on their slip of paper, making this game ideal for kids at any age and skill level.
Here's how you play:
- Print out the Guess Who I Am informational slips and cut into strips.
- Give each player a strip and time to fill in three unique features. To make it easier, ask that players choose three things from a specific category like physical appearance or favorite things.
- Once all slips of paper are complete, collect them in a large bowl or bag.
- Sit in a circle and pass the bowl around to one person at a time. Each person pulls out one slip, reads it aloud, then makes a guess who wrote it. If the guess is right, the player passes the bowl. If the guess is incorrect, the player asks the group for help by pointing to one person at a time who can make a guess until the right answer is found.
Choosing a Game
When choosing games for children with autism, it's important to consider several 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.