Finding The Joy In Games For You And Your Child


Playing games at home is a great way to have hours of fun on the weekends or when your family has some downtime. Games, like real life, pose unique challenges like making decisions, taking different points-of-view, using language, and achieving an objective. Children with special needs experience difficulty with some games’ rules or physical actions, leading to frustration and unwillingness to engage. Maximize your child’s enjoyment and connections with all who are playing by using these tips!


Board games that don’t require reading or high levels of language logic are the right choice for kids with special needs, though they can still be challenging. Choose one with a bigger game play area, making it clearer to see and to move within. Often, those games have physical pieces to manipulate so that your child is in control, and there is a clear beginning and end that she or he can see. The less pieces, words, and instructions a game has, the easier and more fun it will be for your child if he or she has great struggles.


1-sns1Magical and mouth-watering, Candyland does not use language or memory. However, it can be confusing to track the game piece along its path due to the many vibrant colors covering the game board.

• To guide your child along the path, place white or neutral sticky-notes on colored spaces which have already been played. These sticky notes can be removed if needed, as in the case of moving a piece backwards.
• On a strip of paper, cut out a square in the middle. Hand-overhand, systematically track each colored space on the game board that is revealed in this cut-out only, thereby blocking the other colored spaces.
• Language to use with your child: “You pulled a red card. Let’s look for the first red space we see on the game board.”
• Explain the objective: “The winner is the one who gets to end of the game board first.”


01Though it uses no language or memory, Bingo with numbers may be too complicated. A better choice for children with special needs is a game board with colors, shapes, or characters they are fond of (e.g., Disney characters, dinosaurs, etc.)

• Play only up/down or left/right to avoid the more complex diagonal.
• Overlaying the game board with transparency paper or a clear pocket folder, you can draw different colored lines, showing the acceptable lines to fill.
• Language to use regarding the line placements: “Only on this line” or “Only here.”
• Explain the objective: “The winner is the one who gets a line.”


011This interesting game can potentially be highly confusing with lots of two-dimensional “climbing up” and “sliding down” along the 100-space journey.

• On a strip of paper, cut out a square in the middle. Handover-hand, systematically track each numbered space on the game board that is revealed in this cut out only, thereby blocking the other numbered spaces. Tell the child to disregard the number written within the space, since we are always moving by counting from “one” depending on how many spaces the spinner tells us we can move.
• Many children are confused by where the ladders and “chutes” or slides begin and end because they traverse many game board spaces. Before playing (together with your child), on sticky notes, place green arrows from the bottom of the ladders, tracing his finger up to the top. Place sticky notes with red arrows from the top of the slides, tracing his finger down to the bottom. When he lands on a chute or a ladder that traverses other game board spaces, tell him to find the arrow to see the original space.
• Language to use while the spinner’s in motion. “I hope I land on a ladder!”; “Come on spinner – help me get to a ladder!”; “No slides! I don’t want to be on the top of a slide!”
• Explain the objective: “The winner is the one who gets to the end first.”



012Memory doesn’t require too much language, strategy, or fine motor skills. However, as the name proclaims, visual memory is of the upmost importance.

• Limit it to four cards (2 pairs) and only two players, gradually increasing by one pair at a time as your child gets the hang of it.
• Using minimal language, play a hand yourself as an example for your child.
• Turn all cards face up. Over time, as your child understands the game, turn some cards face down and some face up.
• Provide a cup for each player to collect their matches.
• Language to use: “You got a match!”; “Great! That’s a pair!”; “Alright! These two cards are the same!”; “Johnny, say, ‘I got a pair!”; “Johnny, say, ‘Oh, shucks! These cards are different.’”
• Explain the objective: “The winner is the one who has the most matches inside of his cup.”


Instead of declaring “War!” on each other to see who has the more powerful, triumphant card, consider a more kid-friendly name for this game, such as the ‘Greater Than/Less Than’ game. To enjoy playing, your child should have an understanding of the increasing and decreasing value of numbers.

• Provide your child with a numbered line sequentially from 2 to 10 to assist with judging whose card is greater.
• Until your child gets the hang of it, omit the Ace, King, Queen, and Jack. Once ready to play with these cards, add them to your child’s “number line.” depicting their increasing values from Jack through Ace.
• Language to use: “Is 7 greater than or less than 8?”; “Is 3 more than 4?”; “Which number is more? Look at your number line.”
• Explain the objective: “The winner is the one who has more matches.”


A childhood favorite, Go Fish played by-the-rules combines language logic, memory, and perspective-taking that can be confusing.

• Play alone with your child
• Provide a bucket or large cup for players to collect their matches.
• Provide a pencil and paper to each player.
• Instead of all 52 cards, limit it to just five different numbered face-values. Deal four cards to you and your child, leaving the remaining cards in the “pond.”
• Start with cards face up to identify which each person has. Over time, as your child understands this game, turn some cards face down and some face up.
• Language to use: “I have a 5. Do you have a 5?”
• When working an advanced play where your child can’t constantly see the cards that his opponent has, allow him to write each down when revealed to better remember. You can say, “Now you know that I have a 5. Write that down.”
• Explain the objective: Make the abstract concept of “fishing” more concrete. Explain that the cards within the pile are like fish in the pond, and those in our hands are like fish on our pole. We want to get all of the fish from the “pond” onto our “pole.” “The winner is the one who gets the most matches in her bucket.”


These unique and entertaining games can be played with the whole family using great imagination right on the spot!


This one is a modification of the popular game Hedbanz. On an index card, someone draws or writes the name of an animal, food, or vehicle. Without the player, AKA “silly head”, knowing what’s on the card, it is placed on her forehead with a piece of tape. The rest of the family behaves accordingly  towards the silly head. The silly head has to take their perspective and guess what she is.

For example, if the silly head index card indicates “dog”, family members can pet the player”s hair, put imaginative food in a bowl on the ground, put a pretend leash on her, and all other kinds of dog-like activities that would be hilarious!


Two players stand back-to-back while the others take turns asking them “Yes/No” questions. The questions can be of any sort. They could be academic (“Is a snake a reptile?”), preferential (“Do you like chocolate?”), or functional (“Do you go to a restaurant to buy books?”).

Each person responds silently by thumbs up for “Yes,” down for “No,” and in the middle for “Sort of” or “I don’t know.” Then, the participants turn toward each other, showing their responses and discuss why their answers were the same or different.


Three or more players are ideal for this one. To prepare, fill a bag with multi-colored candy (like M&Ms or Skittles), give each person a hula hoop.

The game starts off with everyone standing inside of their hoops placed on the floor. Each player then takes turns pulling out a piece of colored candy. Using a chart that you and your child have made together beforehand, all players have to follow the movements that each color represents. For example:
013blue = jump out of the hoop to the right
brown = jump out of the hoop to the left
orange = jump in the hoop and stand up
red = jump in the hoop and crouch down
yellow = jump out of the hoop forwards
green = jump out of the hoop backwards

The winners are the ones who are inside of the hoop whenever the candies run out. Perhaps even better than winning is the rule that everyone gets to eat the pieces of candy they pull from the bag!


The wonderment of childhood is ongoing fun that comes with new experiences, including playing. Given adjustments to accommodate his or her unique needs, your child will enjoy more and bond closer, making everyone feel like winners! •

Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, has been a communication expert for over 20 years. As a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis Instructor, Karen has been empowering people with autism & special needs to have more meaningful conversations than ever before. Her highly effective I CAN! For Autism Method™ – perfected for over 10 years and now incorporated within the iPad app “I Can Have Conversations With You!™” – is changing lives through improved social and language skills. It is 100% fun for both kids and adults to use! Join the conversation at

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