5 ways video games can help kids with special needs

From communication to motor skills, learning through play is a wonderful motivator for kids with challenges.

Published April 6, 2019 6:59PM (EDT)


This post originally appeared on Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media

Strengthening skills through play is a proven strategy to help kids learn. For kids with special needs, video games can offer opportunities to practice everything from communication skills to organization -- even social interactions -- in a comfortable environment where players set the pace. While games designed specifically for kids with special needs can address certain issues, many mainstream titles can support your kid's learning. Mainstream games can boost a sense of independence and confidence in kids with special needs, provide the ability to ask for help, and let them challenge themselves. Try these games to help kids with special needs in these five areas:

Games that promote visual storytelling, social modeling, and language patterns can help kids with speaking, listening, and communicating. Learn more about communication challenges.

  • Cool School: Where Peace Rules, Mac, Windows
    This free game helps kids practice conflict resolution.
  • Itzazoo, Windows
    Using "living ink" technology, kids' drawings are animated and incorporated into this unique learn-to-read game.
  • Storybook Workshop, Nintendo Wii
    Players take turns reading fairy tales aloud, and the game changes your voice to fit the scene.

Motor Skills 
Games that encourage movement -- from dancing to sports to drawing to handwriting -- strengthen muscle memory and put a name to an action. Learn more about motor skill challenges.

  • Active Life: Magical Carnival, Nintendo Wii
    Using both the standard Wii remote and a special floor mat that tracks players' foot movements, this collection of fantasy-themed mini-games gets kids moving as it tests their short-term memory, their ability to follow instructions quickly, and their skill at matching colors, shapes, and patterns.
  • Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, Microsoft Xbox 360, Xbox One
    By moving like a conductor in time with specific sounds, this innovative rhythm game teaches kids about music and provides plenty of physical exercise. Kids will feel as though they're actually manipulating and creating music while getting a modest physical workout.
  • LetterSchool, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
    LetterSchool does a great job of teaching letter writing with a three-step process: Learn the starting points for each stroke, trace the letter, and write the letter without hints. Once you draw the letter, it animates, which is a sweet reward.

Developing new routines, transitioning activities, and managing time are challenges for kids who struggle with executive functioning. Games that emphasize visual scheduling and break big jobs into smaller tasks can help. Learn more about organizational challenges.

  • Disaster Hero, Mac, Windows
    This free Web game visually demonstrates what to do in case of emergency. Upon completion, players gain a sense of empowerment, as they will know the recommended steps for planning for, anticipating, and responding to a natural disaster.
  • Engineering.com Games, Mac, Windows
    With about 100 engineering, physics, aerospace, and logic games, kids can find a wealth of opportunities to practice skills such as decision-making, deduction, and prediction that help build understanding of sequential directions.
  • Super Mario Maker, Nintendo Wii U
    Kids learn step-by-step processes as they use the Wii U GamePad's stylus to design, create, and share their very own Super Mario adventures.

Reading and Writing
Games that give both verbal and written instructions, break down directions into small steps, and focus on the player's strengths can help boost reading and writing skills. Learn more about reading and writing challenges.

  • Elegy for a Dead World, Mac, Windows
    It sounds creepy, but Elegy for a Dead World is a free-form storytelling game that gives kids the freedom to write whatever they want using prompts or their own imaginations.
  • Mia Reading: The Bugaboo Bugs, Mac, Windows
    With 12 learning activities and four levels of difficulty, Mia Reading takes kids on a super-engaging learning adventure that covers a wide range of literacy basics, including associating words with images, phonics, spelling, sentence structure, and more.
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited, Nintendo Wii U
    Kids can learn about puzzle solving while exercising their vocabularies and stretching their imaginations in this highly creative puzzle adventure. When the game prompts them to help a character, kids write a word using the Wii U's stylus, and voila -- the item appears on-screen!

Social Interaction
Games that let kids identify facial expressions, provide plenty of time for responses, and offer safe, supported chatting can be effective social-skills boosters. Learn more about social interaction challenges.

  • Doki Doki Universe, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
    Named for the Japanese word for heartbeat, Doki Doki lets players explore an unusual world and meet people, with the ultimate goal of understanding human behavior.
  • Herotopia, Mac, Windows
    In this virtual world, kids go on daily missions to get rid of would-be bullies, earning tokens to spend on customizing their avatars.
  • Unravel, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
    Through a jumble-of-yarn protagonist named Yarny, kids can explore the nature of relationships in a slow-paced world with no right or wrong answers.

By Caroline Knorr

MORE FROM Caroline Knorr

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

All Salon Autism Awareness Month Children Common Sense Media Culture Video Games