Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

All children benefit from play, but an autistic or special needs child may find it difficult to follow or participate in traditional games. Here are 10 games for your child to have fun and learn!

By Aarthi Arun

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

UNICEF says play is the basic right for every child – and, that is no different for a child with special needs. It's through play that your child understands the world around him, learns problem-solving, builds self-esteem and improves his motor and social skills. Not to mention the sheer fun of playing. For a child with special needs, the rigorous standards and the competitive nature of traditional games can be overwhelming. 

So, here are some games and activities for your child to let her hair down and have some serious fun.

Simple games for children with special needs

The games listed here are suitable for all children irrespective of their physical or psychological challenges. These games are especially suitable for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), learning disabilities, speech and language delays, Down syndrome, physical disabilities and cerebral palsy. 

Fun indoor activities for autistic children

1. Build structures

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 9 years

Benefits: Creativity, problem-solving, social skills

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disability

Blocks are a staple in every child's toy caddy, so dump them out and start playing. In a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders were found to use their creativity more after playing with interlocking blocks. Autistic children follow a strict routine and find it difficult to break from their repetitive behaviour. By building different structures, you child can venture into trying new things and develop creativity. You can start by asking your child to copy a structure first. Then, slowly encourage him to build structures on his own.

2. Dance up to a tune

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 9 years

Benefits: Confidence, spatial awareness, motor and social skills

Suitable for: Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Physical disability, Cerebral Palsy, Learning Disability

Dancing is great for self-expression and for keeping your child's body in shape. And all that tapping, stomping and twirling are so much fun. Even for children who are wheelchair bound, dancing can help in flexibility and improve upper body strength. When you incorporate music into it, your child's brain gets a boost of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which will relax her. Also, by involving in a dance session with friends and family, your child can hone her social skills.

3. Match the cards

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 5 years

Benefits: Memory, concentration and social skills

Suitable for: Speech and Language Delay, Learning Disability

Memory matching cards are easily available in the market. You can play this simple game by arranging pairs of matching cards face down in random order. You and your child can take turns in flipping the cards. You need to flip twice, and if you get a matching pair, you can take the cards. If not, you continue playing until all the cards are matched.

4. Make some art

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 5 years

Benefits: Motor, coordination, self-confidence and creativity

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disability, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy

Can there be anything better to boost your child's self-confidence than creating something on her own? Painting with cut vegetables and fruits are easy, and soon, your child will be beaming at the masterpiece she has created.

5. Roll a dice

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 6 to 9 years

Benefits: Self-confidence and social skills

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Speech and Language Delay

Board games are powerful tools for family bonding and learning social skills like sharing and taking turns. Choose a game of your child's liking and remember to tweak the rules to suit him – the aim is to let him have fun.

6. Go tech

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 6 to 9 years

Benefits: Self-confidence, creativity, problem-solving, independence

Suitable for: Visual and Hearing impairment, Speech and Language Delay

Technology activities enable a child with special needs to feel accomplished and empowered. There are many games online and apps for your child to try and learn better about the world around him.

Fun outdoor activities for autistic children

7. Throw a ball

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 9 years

Benefits: Motor, coordination, self-confidence and social skills

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Learning Disability

Physical play can enhance your child's awareness of his body and build endurance. More than that, participating in a sports activity can do a lot to your child's psyche. Line up some plastic glasses and play a bowling game. According to your child's abilities, you can also consider including rules or involve him in a more formal game.

8. Splash in the water

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 9 years

Benefits: Motor, coordination and social skills

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Water is therapeutic. Playing in water can calm and soothe your child's nerves. For a younger child, add some bath toys to an inflatable pool and let her have fun. Make sure an adult is supervising when the child is in the water. An older child can have fun outdoors with a garden hose or sprinkler.

Sensory activities for kids with autism

9. Create a sensory tub

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 5 years

Benefits: Motor, coordination and problem solving

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Speech and Language Delay.

Processing sensory information can be a challenge for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or other developmental delays. A sensory bin can come in handy to integrate your child's senses and improve his attention. Take a big, shallow tub and add household items like rice, lentils or flour. You can also add food colour to make it interesting. Let your child scoop, pour, measure, etc., and have a blast.

10. Sorting with snacks

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 5 years

Benefits: Motor, coordination and problem solving

Give your child a plate with a variety of snacks which are different in shape, colour and texture. Ask your child to sort the snacks based on these characteristics. You can also use this sensory activity to teach basic maths skills such as addition and subtraction. Reward your child if he cooperates well with the activity by letting him eat the snack.

Social skills activities for autistic children

Socializing can be very difficult for children on the autistic spectrum. Here are some social skill activities which will help them interact and communicate with others around them.

11. Put on a show

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: 3 to 5 years

Benefits: Imagination, emotional intelligence and social skills

Suitable for: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Speech and Language Delay

Puppets, soft toys and dolls give an opportunity for your child to understand abstract concepts, involve in imaginative play and practise spontaneity. Play a game where you line up your child's puppets and act out a scene. You can be vivid and expressive and encourage your child to follow suit. This way, your child can learn to identify emotions.

12. Follow the leader

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: Older kids and teenagers

Autistic children often have trouble with routine daily activities. This social skill activity will help your teen perform simple activities such as making her own bed, changing her dress or prepare breakfast. The idea is to break down a task like making the bed into three or four steps. Announce that you are going to ‘make the bed’. Show your child each step carefully and ask her to mimic your steps. With repetition, your child will be able to do this on her own. Follow the same method to teach her to become independent with other routine tasks.

13. Emotion sorting activity

Games And Activities For Children With Special Needs And Autism

Age: Younger kids and teenagers

Kids with autism often struggle to express or identify emotions. Use this simple activity to help them learn what each emotion means. Print some cards with some basic emotions labelled in bold – joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. Now print another set of cards with facial images depicting each of these emotions. Keep the cards with the written emotions face down and ask your child to pick one and match it with the correct face card. Use this activity to help your child associate with each emotion and how to respond correctly to it in a real-life situation.

These games and activities not just help engage your kids but also encourage them to be spontaneous and enjoy themselves. Not to mention that these games are inclusive of special needs and disabled children.

About the author:

Written by Aarthi Arun on 6 June 2018; updated on 1 April 2020

Aarthi Arun is a writer from Chennai, who currently calls Toronto her home. Although she has donned many hats, from a photographer to a librarian to a software engineer, she has learnt the most in the role of a mother. With her 6-year-old son Kathir, she loves going on long walks, building LEGO blocks and reading adventurous stories.

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