AutismHelp and Advicehome learning games for children with autism

by Brisbane Tutor Justin Clark

Whether your child is home-schooled or attends mainstream school, engaging with them through home learning activities and games can be a fun and rewarding experience for both parties. Structured activities are excellent for children with autism as they provide clear guidelines about what happens and when, what to do at each stage of the game, what the goal is and how the game ends. This is particularly helpful for autistic children as it makes activities more predictable and hence less stressful, making participation and enjoyment more manageable. Structed activities help children to develop skills such as turn taking, following instructions, sharing and interacting with others which are important for success when playing with peers.

As adults, we often forget how complex the rules of games are for children, particularly for kids with learning difficulties. Most games have a long list of rules, both explicit and implicit, as well as a set of social expectations for how participants should react during play, which can be stressful for autistic children. Playing games at home will help your child to become familiar with the workings of the activity which can aid them in progressing to engaging in the game with their peers. Many common kid’s games can be easily modified to make them more accessible for children with autism or other learning difficulties which is dually beneficial, as it makes the activity less stressful for them while also adding an educational element.

What Types of Games and Activities are Best for Children with Autism?

Children with autism often thrive in structured environments where they have the ability to accurately predict what will happened next, which is why games that have a clearly defined objective and fixed end point are generally best.

Every autistic child’s specific skills and needs are different, however, there are some general guidelines that can be followed when adapting an activity for children with autism to breed success.

How to Adapt Activities and Games for Children with Autism

  • Children with autism appreciate predictability, so prepare your child for what will happen in the game and what they will experience during the activity in detail. Thorough preparation can make games, especially new ones, feel less daunting.
  • Make sure to provide a clear set of instructions or rules and ensure your child understands fully before beginning the game. You can check understanding with questions like “what happens when…?”, “how do I start my turn?” or “what’s the goal?”.
  • Provide an opportunity for your child to ask questions about the activity and express anything they are uncertain or anxious about. Ensure that their expressions of concern are a positive experience by validating their feelings and suggesting strategies to help them feel more secure.

Home Learning Activities and Games to Support Cognitive and Motor Skills


Hopscotch is an excellent game for developing physical coordination, cognitive skills and balance. Hopping on one foot to designated squares aids midline development, muscle strength and body control. When played in a group, hopscotch is also great for supporting social skills like turn taking and encouragement of peers. Add in a marker to toss and pick up, and your child will also be working on hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. While hopscotch doesn’t have a complicated list of instructions or rules, it can be tricky to combine all the skills needed which can be frustrating for some autistic children. Easy adaptations for hopscotch include:

  • Keep it simple by only using one skill at a time; just practice hopping across the court or eliminate the hopping and practice throwing the bean bag or marker to a square, the walking over to collect it.
  • Switch up the identifiers on the squares of the court. For example, if you’re working on learning numbers, use the traditional numbered hopscotch court, or make each square a different colour, use letters of the alphabet or even pictures of animals, shapes or people’s faces. This encourages children to work on their recognition skills when asked to hop or throw the marker to the desired square.

Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and ladders is another versatile game that allows for the practice of a range of skills, such as counting, turn taking and understanding cause and effect. Game boards are often very busy, so can be overwhelming for children for ASD. To help them prepare for this activity and understand the sequence of the game, you can get your child to drive a toy car along the board, following the numbers and practicing going up ladders and down snakes. Tracing the various paths with a finger can be good too. Here’s how you can adapt snakes and ladders for autistic kids:

  • Add arrow stickers to the board to help with direction. Add arrows pointing up the ladders and down the snakes to reinforce the understanding of where to move on each. For extra differentiation between the two, you can use arrows of different colours for up and down. If your child isn’t confident with numbers yet, you can also add arrows across the rows of numbers for a clear visual aid of where to move on each turn. This is a helpful tip that is applicable to all board games that progress in a single direction, such as monopoly, cranium and mousetrap.
  • Provide a social story with visual cues for the steps players will take on each turn and a script for how to respond to different events, with phrases like “I hope I land on a ladder” or “oops, I got a snake”.
  • If your child struggles to remember which is their game piece, try adding cues like a matching coloured wristband to remind them, or swapping them out for photos of the players.
  • To practice more advanced numerical skills, use multiple dice, and get your child to add or multiply the numbers on each top face to give the number of spaces they will move.

Simon Says

The well-known game Simon Says can be a double-edged sword for children with autism; on one hand, it has very clear roles which is good for understanding what each person in the game will be doing, but on the other, the instructions given by the person playing Simon can be unpredictable which can be a source of stress. Additionally, the thought of ‘failing’ to do the action correctly in front of a peer group and ‘getting out’ can create anxiety. Simon Says is a great game to play at home to practice following instructions or for practicing desired behaviours, like putting shoes on, sitting at the table, putting toys away, saying good bye etc. It is easy to make more accessible for children with ASD by providing the following adaptations:

  • Taking away the ‘Simon Says’ rule (if ‘Simon’ doesn’t say “Simon says” before stating the instruction and a player does the action, they’re out) can reduce stress and make it easier for kids to focus on the instruction being given, breeding an environment of success.
  • Reducing the number of instructions ‘Simon’ can give to a short list, and proving picture cues of each instruction for the child. If your child needs additional structure and predictability, ‘Simon’ can use the set list of instructions in the same order, so the child will always know what is coming next.


As this game’s name implies, Memory is great for practicing visual memory. Often children with ASD are quite strong in this area, however others who struggle more with spatial awareness and remembering the location of items in relation to other will find it more challenging. Memory is also really useful as it can be easily tailored to relate to any topic being learnt, or to align with a subject of interest for your child. Memory cards are easy to DIY by printing two sets of numbers, letters or images onto cardboard and cutting them into cards. For extra durability, lamination offers greater protection. Here is how to adapt Memory for autistic children who find it challenging:

  • Begin with the cards laid out on the surface face up to eliminate the memory aspect, allowing the child to focus solely on finding and matching. Then, progress to beginning with the cards face down, but leaving them face up once they have been viewed to increase the chances of success in getting a match. Once your child is more familiar with the game, you can start turning the cards over again.
  • Start small; use a significantly reduced number of cards (between two and four pairs) to begin with, and gradually increase the number of cards being used as your child’s confidence and competency increases.  

Hope Tutoring led by Justin Clark is a team of specialists tutors who often use games as a way of learning difficulties help. Contact us today if you are looking for Tutoring in Brisbane or someone who can do remote tutoring.