3 ways in which games help children with autism


Asking a question or thanking someone; we all do it on a daily basis and we probably hardly even think twice about it. However, for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) these types of social interactions are incredibly difficult. It can have devastating repercussions; research suggests that only around 5 to 17 percent of children with autism will have a satisfactory social life as an adult.  

Researcher Job van ’t Veer of NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences develops games as part of the ‘SoVaTass’ project for children aged 10-12 years old with ASD, to help them deal with social situations. Job describes three ways in which these games help.

First way: use the power of games

Children with autism will sometimes receive homework during their treatment. This can be quite confrontational, for instance when asked to arrange play dates with three of their friends. Job: “A simulated world can help remove these barriers, because it is a safe environment to experiment in. At SoVaTass, we have developed the ‘Island game’. In this game, children play a mailman who finds himself in different types of situations. The conversations with other characters require a variety of social skills. This helps to really focus on specific learning outcomes, like giving compliments or asking someone else a question.”

Second way: create a challenging context

Escape rooms are popular: you are locked up in unfamiliar surroundings. Only by working together, you can escape. Cooperation, negotiating, helping each other out; all of these skills are needed to solve the puzzles and escape the room. This makes it an ideal setting for children with ASD to practice in. “In the digital escape room which we are developing, three players get a tablet. They are all shown different things and assignments. For instance, one may have a key which someone else needs to open a chest with. Children are assigned different roles, like team leader or researcher. Each of these require a different approach in social behaviour. This variety allows care and education professionals to gear sessions to the children’s specific learning needs.”

Third way: reframe when needed

How is a child with autism feeling? What does their autism mean to them? This is hard to comprehend. Job: “While developing a variety of programme components, we discovered that our views of how children experience their own ASD were incorrect. This inspired us to create a new component: MijnStrip. This focuses on the prejudices towards autism. Children map their own characteristics , talents and interests. Not only children with autism would do this, but the whole class for instance. This way you discover that everyone is a little bit ‘different’ in their own way. It sets the stage for the other programme components to be even more effective!”

Co-creation forms the basis for everything

Job: “The games will eventually need to be components of encompassing treatment programmes. This can only be achieved if the contents matches the children’s treatment and learning goals. Sure, you can develop a cool game, but if it doesn’t fit within the treatment programme, you won’t achieve anything. We have developed our components by co-creating with children, parents, and care and education professionals. We test our games in practice and tweak our components based on our findings. This way, we develop the best solutions to help the children with.”