Sunday, November 7, 2010

Teaching Game Play Concepts

While we are working on our new format, here is an article from a past issue of our newsletter.

Teaching Game Play Concepts by Nicole Caldwell, M.Ed.

When teaching students with Autism to play games, some may be unfamiliar with game play concepts such as rolling dice, moving pieces on a game board, and taking turns. These skills can be taught in a separate or discrete trial setting, but should also be practiced with other students or siblings. There are a variety of strategies that can be incorporated to teach game play skills.

Prepare students ahead of time by practicing game play skills in isolation. Work on things like rolling dice, choosing a game piece, moving the game piece while counting to different numbers, and identifying the numbers found on dice (see the dice flash cards on our free downloads page under “Games”). Also practice taking turns by passing an object back and forth while saying, “Mom’s turn…Jason’s turn…” Start with two people, then add in others.

Small Steps
After mastering some game play concepts in isolation, it’s time to put them to use. Start with playing a simple game for a short time. In Positively Autism’s free downloads section, you can find a series of printable game boards that get progressively longer and more challenging to play. At first the game board has only a few spaces and is in one straight line. Our free downloads page also has some dice you can make that only go up to the number three for use with these short games. Additional game boards in the series have a path that starts to curve and introduce concepts such as “Move forward one space” and “Roll again.” They are designed to be used sequentially, so the small steps are already made for you. After these games are mastered, you can try simple board games like Candy Land.

Make it Fun
At first, playing games may not seem fun to some students with Autism who have not learned how to play them and what their purpose is. You can make playing the game more fun by incorporating the student’s interest into the game. For one of my students, I inserted pictures of favorite characters into the game board spaces. You can also use items or characters that the student is interested in as game pieces (to move around the board) or purchase games from a store that involve favorite animals, items, or characters.
Another way to make the game more motivating is to praise and reward the student for playing. You can give small rewards or tokens (on a point system) for things like taking turns, rolling the dice, moving the piece correctly, good sportsmanship etc.

Use Visuals
Since many students with Autism are visual learners, it may be helpful to use visual aids to facilitate game play. To help tell whose turn it is, you can have the players pass around an object or a piece of paper that says, “It’s my turn.” Various turn-taking visuals can be found in our free downloads page. To help tell whose game piece is whose, you can label the pieces with small papers with player names or photos.

Play with Peers or Siblings
As a student masters game play skills, it is important to practice them with real games in a natural setting. Playing with classmates, siblings, after school groups, and others is a great way use newly learned skills. Social StoriesTM are one strategy to encourage proper game play behavior and manners when playing with peers. 

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