Changing the Game


Due to the collaboration of the Autism Project and Hasbro, children will be able to reap the benefits of ToyBox Tools and be one step closer to sitting with their peers while enjoying a game of Candyland or Connect 4.

Memories of playing board games as a child may be a common theme, but not so common for some. I spent many afternoons playing Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders and Sorry and, when my younger brother got older, the  dynamics changed. My parents were no longer the ones teaching me how to play these games, I soon became the teacher and my brother became the eager student. I fast-forward to me as an adult and I think about my two boys. At one point, it seemed unrealistic to witness my boys playing a game together while I could stand by and enjoy their interaction with one another. It’s more realistic to think that my oldest son, Hayden, would lose his patience as Broden lost interest. I can see it now. Broden would eventually walk away as Hayden read the game’s rules knowing they would never finish a game. We’ve tried board games in the past, but after several attempts these games were thrown in the closet and soon were added to the items that we move from installation to installation that we never use, but don’t have the heart to give away. I think because we always have held on to hope of maybe being able to play these games as a family, some day.

I’m excited to say that there is hope out there for families such as mine. The Autism Project is working with Hasbro to give parents, caregivers, teachers and behavioral therapists tools to help them teach children with developmental disabilities with play.

ToyBox Tools is an initiative that has been created so families can gauge where their child is, developmentally, and use the tools and guides to mold the game so it fits the child, as opposed to making the child fit the game. This is a new and groundbreaking concept that will hopefully empower parents to understand that their child can learn and play with any game. Looking outside the box and making modifications is the key.

I had the opportunity to play Chutes and Ladders with my son using ToyBox Tools. As I looked through the tools, the potential in this product was evident to me. I brought the game and tools to my son’s BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) at his clinic. This would not only benefit my son, but other children as well. The possibilities are endless in a clinical setting where their focus is teaching children how to play and helping them improve their social skills.

The box included the game Chutes and Ladders with three stapled packets divided into three levels of play: basic play, expanding play, and social play. Basic play is an introduction to the game. The child labels the items used to play the game such as the spinner and pictures on the game board. If the child is nonverbal, gestures can be used to identify those items. Level 2 is the beginning stages of play.The guide gives the child ideas for dialogue for playing the game. Level 3 is the most advanced level and gives the child pictures to guide them through the game.

My favorite tools were the cards to provide visual cues for the child. Cards are provided that say wait, help, my turn, your turn, and break. These cards are available to the child so they can learn to wait their turn in the game or ask for help if they need assistance. If they need a break and want to walk around and come back to the game, they can turn in or point to the “break” card.

These cards limited tantrums due to frustration and assisted Broden in communicating his wants and needs while we played the game. Due to these cards, we were playing longer and he knew he had choices. Broden knew he could take a break when he needed, but he knew when he had to wait too.

After using the tools and then having my son’s BCBA look through the product, it was evident that there is a need for these tools and children benefit from them. I would like to see videos on the showing parents working with children. Many parents do not know how to play with their children and I think it would be very beneficial to show videos of parents or teachers working with the kids using the tools.

How do they use the cards while playing the game? When did they use the break card? Did they just point to the card or do they actually give the card to the child? Discuss the many ways the teacher or parent can use the cards, whether the child is verbal or nonverbal.

The cards were on 8X10 sheets of paper. In order to get the maximum usage of the tools, I needed to cut them out and ask Broden’s clinic to laminate them for me. I think it would be beneficial if the cards were already laminated to prevent the cards from tearing or getting mutilated due to high usage.

I really enjoyed the concept of three levels of play. Reading through the guides, it shows parents that spinning the spinner and sliding a piece down the slide on the board can be fun for the child. The three stapled handouts were difficult to sift through at times. The guide would be most helpful if it was in a spiral notebook with tabs labeling  each level. If the parent or teacher is engaging the child, and they have to shift back and forth while using the tools, a spiral notebook would be easier for them.

The days of dodging the game aisle in the toy section are over. Due to the collaboration of the Autism Project and Hasbro, children will be able to reap the benefits of ToyBox Tools and be one step closer to sitting with their peers  while enjoying a game of Candyland or Connect 4. The tools are being created because our kids can learn with the right support and will be able to thrive and truly enjoy the benefits of play.

Accolades to groups such as these for showing parents, teachers, caregivers, and most of all, our children with developmental disabilities that anything is possible. Even finishing a game of Chutes and Ladders.•

Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Hood, TX. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.


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