While I know this blog is all about using games to teach, I want to be very clear that games should still be fun. I still remember when I was kid, my grandmother and I would sit and play double-solitaire together. It’s a fairly simple game, so it was something we could play while having conversation with each other. While I’m sure it was helping secure my skills in number recognition, number order, completing patterns, and such; the main focus was spending time with my grandmother. And those are some of my favorite memories of her.
So, yes, I break down skills and modifications for all the games and apps and toys I feature here, but I just can’t categorize the value in sitting and enjoying a game together. Even when you are teaching through the games, it should still be fun. Below are some tips on how to keep the fun in when you are working with students with autism and other delays:
1) Don’t ask a question or require a response on every single turn. Let the child engage with the game without all the extra stuff.
2) Mix up your questions. Ask some easy ones, some silly ones, and a few hard ones. If you are working with students with autism, you want your gameplay to mirror how typically developing students would play games as much as possible.
3) Ask questions in a fun way. Check your tone of voice. It should be playful (but age-appropriate.)
4) Engage in a little “trash talk” or competition. Make that aspect of the game fun. My younger students think it’s hilarious when I over-dramatically say “oh-no” when I lose a turn, or when I joke and say something like “You are definitely not going to beat me this time.” Again, tone of voice is important here. But handling how people engage with games is also a good skill for students to have. If you only work with students with developmental disabilities (as I do) it would be beneficial to see how typically developing students engage in the game. I am always taking opportunities to see how my nieces, nephews, and neighbors interact with the games, books, apps, and toys that I have.
5) Give your students appropriate possibilities to end a game early. It’s okay if they get tired of playing or lose motivation (as long as it is not a pattern of losing motivation when they are losing the game.) Teaching students how to calmly and appropriately exit a game they have stopped enjoying is important.
6) Many of our students with autism spectrum disorder struggle to engage with activities during leisure time. Introducing a wide range of games that are age appropriate and interesting will help them in this area. When you find games that they enjoy, make sure those games are accessible and visible so the child can request to play them.
7) Vary the games you play. I have a somewhat-arbitrary rule that I don’t bring in the same game more than once in a two-week period. I understand that typically developing kids sometimes play the same game everyday. (Another favorite memory of mine is when my brother and I raced home from school every day when we were 10 and 12 to continue a game of Monopoly that lasted for three weeks.) However, during teaching sessions, it’s a good idea to expose students to a broad range of games and increase their motivation to request a game again. Your rule of thumb might be three days or one week, but it should definitely NOT be every day.
I don’t want my students to ever think I’m teaching with games, even thought I am doing that ALL the time. I label it as a break (although we’re still learning,) and I work hard to find games that I think they will be motivated by. If I am using materials from a game strictly for teaching, I do not say that we’re going to play a game. And sometimes we play a game simply because they enjoy it, which is something both kids and adults should be able to do from time to time.