How to find the right games and activities for autistic children

How to find the right games and activities for autistic children

by Deborah Cicurel |
Published on

World Autism Awareness Day 2017 is a great platform to talk about the developmental disorder that affects 1 in 68 children.

But although raising an autistic child can often feel challenging, choosing the right games and activities for them early on can be hugely helpful for their development. “Research shows that the right support early on in an autistic child’s life makes a huge difference to their future outcome,” says Jon Spiers, CEO of autism charity Autistica.

If you’re looking for autism activities that are right for your child, consider some of the tips below…

Socialising with others

According to Dan Jones, who has autism spectrum disorder himself, and who penned Look Into My Eyes - an autobiographical self-help book sharing his personal and professional experiences with autism - children with autism struggle with social situations, so some of the best autism games are those which softly introduce a child to mixing with others.

Sensory activities for autism can also be hugely helpful for kids’ developmental progress.

“It’s a good idea to initiate games where the child is alongside others first, that way they get used to being in the company of those others, then gradually introducing interactions to help them learn and develop their social skills,” he says.

“It’s also good to have an environment which doesn't have too much going on, as the greater the sensory experience, the more likely they are to get angry or anxious.”

But which specific games for autistic children should parents try to introduce?

“Lego can be good, as children can play alongside others,” he says. “It’s a way of getting them used to being in the company of others. Card and board games where people take turns can also help the child play while getting used to being in the company of others.

“They may get angry if someone breaks any rules or they see something as unfair, so it is good to have the game monitored, or to have an adult or calm responsible older sibling involved in the playing.”

Jones also suggests that sports can be good activities for children with autism.

“Some children like team sports like football or basketball, which can help them to learn social skills,” he says. "Sports like running or swimming are great for fitness, and can help with the child's ability to focus and relax. The benefit of sports like tennis or badminton is that they are played one on one with another person. This can help with reducing the sensory overload of too many people around and all the movement and noise.”

Technology can be a winner

We’re all addicted to our phones these days, but experts believe that apps can promote the development of children with autism, as interactive experiences can offer a stimulating and calming experience for kids.

Sensory activities for autism can also be hugely helpful for kids’ developmental progress.

Apps and interactive games have the ability to improve key skills in a range of development areas such as social and emotional, sensory, functional, language and communication as well as helping to aid stress reduction.

“In my experience, children with autism can be highly motivated, attentive and engaged when using technology so it is worth taking the time to source high-quality, educational apps that are most suited to the individual child’s needs,” says Lelia Ingram, head of learning at app Hopster.

“Apps and interactive games have the ability to improve key skills in a range of development areas such as social and emotional, sensory, functional, language and communication as well as helping to aid stress reduction.”

Ingram says it’s important to understand the unique requirements for children with special educational needs.

“For example, vibrant colour palettes can be distressing for some children with a sensory processing disorder,” she says. “With that in mind, apps that introduce a choice of colour palettes including more muted tones give them greater ownership of the game and a more enjoyable experience. A variety of music and sounds that are deliberately calming combined with suitable lighting effects also help create a relaxing and explorative experience.”

According to Deborah Brownson, an autism champion at charity network Autism Alliance UK, apps can also appeal to autistic children who are anxious about making mistakes, as they can always start again. She also says that apps like Hopster are helpful activities for autistic children to stop them becoming impatient. “It’s useful both to calm your child down to avoid meltdowns but also to keep them busy or distracted if they have to wait for a length of time or to keep them occupied during a long journey,” she says.

Consider getting a furry friend involved

According to experts, playing with dogs can really help children with autism, and is an alternative to apps or digital games.

“A lot of autistic children are anxious when out of the house and will often have to focus on electronic games or iPads in order to cope with the outside world,” says family dog service instructor Robbie Campbell at canine charity Dogs For Good.

“We encourage the children to play games with the dog when outside of the house to help them cope with their anxieties. A popular game is hide and seek, where the child is allowed to bolt off and hide behind a tree and the dog will go find them. This allows the children to have an outlet for their bolting behaviour and also boosts their self-confidence because they know that their dog loves them enough to find them.”

Make sure your child knows what’s going on

Whatever you’ve got in store for them, make sure your child knows what to expect to prevent any confusion later on.

“It’s important to be aware of the child's sensory preferences when choosing play activities and to endeavour to engage the child in play in a setting free of distraction,” says Dr Juli Crocombe, director of clinical service and research at charity Caudwell Children. "Provide clear explanation of the activity you intend to engage in, including the location and other people that may be involved. Avoid any surprises or unnecessary changes to plans where possible - but don't expect the child to participate in the same play activity for long periods of time; try to build in breaks to avoid overstimulation."

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