Playing fun, engaging board games with kids helps build social skills. For higher functioning children on the autism spectrum, games provide many opportunities to teach pragmatic language skills. Children with ASD like predictable routines (taking turns around the table, drawing a card or rolling the dice and moving your piece) and a set of rules (the directions for the game) which can be a backdrop for lots of learning.
I’ve had success teaching social language skills while playing board games with kids who I work with on the autism spectrum. I use games to:
- teach turn taking, and use language to prompt peers what to do next
- explain the rules to a new player
- follow directions
- wait their turn
- encourage others
- talk about what card they hope to draw
- talk about emotions when we are excited or disappointed in a turn or at the end of the game
In addition, games that are fun and reinforcing to the child can serve to teach concepts such as beginning/middle/end, first/last, high/low, fast/slow or even top/bottom of the card pile. Often I hold up the stack of cards to my eyes and say, “Who is next?” which encourages eye contact.
One of the kid’s favorites is “Funny Bunny” by Ravensburger toys. Each player tries to be the first one to advance one of his four bunnies down the path to capture the carrot at the end. Oops, it’s not that easy. Take your turn, pick a card and see if you move ahead 1, 2 or 3 spaces unless you get the “click the carrot” card (which for some reason is every kid’s favorite!). Then you get to turn the carrot in the middle of the grass mounded path until it clicks and the bottom drops out from under a space on the path. Luckily you have four bunnies in case you lose one through the hole. Believe it or not, kids love to pick the carrot card, even though they might lose a bunny and definitely don’t advance. It’s just plain fun to click that carrot and see who might drop off the game! Strategy comes into play when a risk-taker advances just one bunny while another child will play it safe and keep several bunnies on the path in case one is clicked off.
As I model the language for social interaction with his typical peer, I give a child many flexible options for directing the turn taking such as, “It’s your turn,” or “Mark’s turn,” “You go next,” “Pick a card,” “Take the top one,” or “See what comes next.” When a new friend joins our session, I have the child I am working with explain the rules with my prompts. As we have progressed in playing this game, I have introduced telling which is my favorite card to choose (the one where I go three spots!) and peek at my card and make a face of excitement or disappointment. We laugh and he says, “Sherry’s sad,” as I say, “I’m disappointed because I didn’t get my favorite.”
So Join the social circle and hop down the bunny path with “Funny Bunny.”