How Video Games Can Help Special Needs Kids
For kids with special needs, video games can offer opportunities to practice everything from communication skills to organization — even social interaction — 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 four areas:
Games that use visual storytelling, social modeling, and language patterns can help kids with speaking, listening, and communicating. Learn more about communication challenges.
Overcooked, age 8+, Switch, PlayStation, Windows, Xbox One: This arcade game about cooking is fast-paced, hilarious, and ridiculous. Designed for same-room co-op play, it relies on players to trust each other and communicate effectively to prepare dishes at an ever-dizzying pace.
Among Us, age 10+, Windows, iOS, Android: This action/strategy game set in space has it all: deception, deduction, confusion, and plenty of humor. Designed for a crew of 4 to 10 players, Among Us promotes teamwork, working toward a goal, and helping others under challenging circumstances.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, age 10+, Mac, Oculus Rift, PlayStation, Windows: Kids can learn about problem-solving and teamwork in this bomb-defusing simulation game. Players have to communicate quickly, clearly, and effectively to solve puzzles — similar to an Escape Room — so the bomb doesn’t go off.
Games that encourage movement — from dancing to sports to drawing to handwriting — strengthen muscle memory and put a name to an action.
Beat Saber, age 10+, HTC Vive, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR: In this action-rhythm game designed for virtual reality, players are challenged to use their sci-fi swordlike sabers to attack and dodge flying beats in time with the rhythm of individual music tracks.
Just Dance 2021, age 10+, Google Stadia, Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S: Just Dance lets players get physically active with their dance moves, while it teaches music appreciation, choreography, and rhythm.
Ring Fit Adventure, age 10+, Switch: To make progress in this fitness adventure game, players must get physical. Kids explore a large world and use exercises like jogging in place, sit-ups, and yoga poses to defeat enemies.
Developing new routines, transitioning activities, and managing time are challenges for kids who struggle with executive functioning skills. Games that emphasize visual scheduling and break big jobs into smaller tasks can help.
Minecraft, age 8+, Mac, Switch, PlayStation, Windows, Xbox One, iOS, Android: Minecraft is a virtual sandbox that gives players all the tools they need to explore a vast world, harvest resources, and create nearly everything they can possibly imagine.
Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit, age 8+, Switch: Nintendo Labo Toy-Con Variety Kit combines real-world crafting with video games and digital activities for the Nintendo Switch (which is required to put these creations together).
Games that let kids identify facial expressions, provide plenty of time for responses, and offer safe, supported chatting can be effective social-skills boosters.
Assemble with Care, age 8+, Apple Arcade: On its surface, Assemble with Care is about fixing sentimental items. Deeper down, though, the game explores different types of loss in people’s lives, from death to strained relationships, and how people repair the holes those losses leave. It’s a game with a strong message of hope, empathy, and love.
Unravel, age 8+, 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.
Doki Doki Universe, age 10+, PlayStation: 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.