Play can be a powerful tool for learning, especially for kids. The interactive nature of video games can engage and captivate children in a way that other forms of media simply cannot. When used responsibly, games can provide a powerful platform for learning — be it academic learning like reading and math, or social and emotional skills like collaboration, self-control and teamwork.
For children affected by autism spectrum disorders, games can help in a number of ways. From touch-based games that help kids develop fine-motor skills, to games specifically designed to help address common areas of concern, there are a number of ways games can be used as tools to help kids meet the challenges of autism.
Below, you’ll find our seven favorite iPhone and iPad games for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Click on any title or icon to be taken to the game’s full learning guide, and please share any games you find helpful in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
7 Great iOS Games for Children with Autism
Structure can be comforting to children affected by autism, but it is also important for them to learn how to adapt to unstructured environments and deal with challenges that do not have clear solutions. The Blockheads offers a fun, interactive way to explore such issues, as it drops players into a large world without clear goals and objectives, allowing them to explore and set their own goals as they discover multiple ways to interact with the environment and tackle problems. The game’s multiplayer features also offer a way for children with ASD to communicate and work together with others toward a common goal.
Children affected by autism spectrum disorders can sometimes be prone to repetitive behavior, making a game like Angry Birds — which encourages adaptive and flexible thinking — a good tool for developing the skills needed to approach tasks from multiples angles. The game is also wildly popular, giving children with ASD a common interest to share with their peers.
Many kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders crave structured environments, so a game like UNO—which follows simple, explicit rules—can serve as a good platform to get children with ASD interacting socially with others while practicing important skills like Flexibility and Self-Control. UNO gives children with ASD the opportunity to try out these skills in a fun game that’s easy to learn, with bright colors and numbers that even younger children will find attractive.
Minecraft is a hugely popular game that drops players into a randomly-generated world with little instruction or guidance, and players must explore the land to gather materials needed to build and survive. For children who find it difficult to deal with unstructured settings, the game serves as a fun tool that encourages adaptable thinking and flexibility. The multiplayer features foster cooperation and teamwork, making it useful for kids who find it difficult when they must work with others to accomplish a goal, especially in an unstructured setting.
Draw Something 2 is essentially a “barrier” game, a term used in ASD therapy that denotes a structure for communication learning. The game tasks one player with communicating an unseen concept or word using touch-based drawing tools to transmit an idea to the other player, encouraging them to imagine what their image communicates, and how it will likely be perceived. Also, the game is a great tool for practicing basic motor skills, and areas in which children dealing with the challenges of autism sometimes struggle.
Go Go Games is an iPad app specifically aimed at helping young children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders, learn basic visual differential skills in a fun, colorful atmosphere. The app displays an image (i.e., a train, car or spaceship) and tasks users with creating an identical visual match by choosing from a collection of similar materials.
IF… is a game all about social and emotional learning (SEL). It encourages players to think about what their actions communicate, and imagine how what they say affects others. Behind the scenes, the game analyzes your child’s choices and actions, which have a direct impact on how characters act and the story plays out. For children affected by autism, understanding social cues and how to behave with others isn’t always easy. In IF…, learning the social cues and conversational techniques are small steps toward larger strides in empathy and compassion.