Games with No Words
TIP-WORDS MAY BE THE PROBLEM: Difficulty comprehending language is one of the challenges of autism for most young children. It is always helpful to use shorter utterances, less complex sentences and just talk less. For some young children who seem particularly reluctant to interact with others, it can help to try some language free games.
Adult hands the child the rock or stick and the child throws it into the water. This is a reciprocal game. No words required!
Photo by Ron Lach
When a child is truly reluctant to play, just imitating what the child is doing can be a powerful game. The child is sitting, ignoring you very pointedly. Saying nothing, you sit next to the child and with your body, do whatever the child is doing. The child moves walks across the room and you walk next to the child to the same place. The child picks up a block and you pick one up too. No words required.
Photo by Bruno Silva
Click Click Click Puzzle
Clear Beginning: select a puzzle piece
Click four times on the table
Place the puzzle piece in the correct spot
Clear ending to the game is when the pieces are all in and it is helpful to end the game then and not do it again right then because the child can see clearly how long they are expected to play this game by how many pieces are left.
In this game, the first time it is played, after putting every piece in except the last one, the adult might want to hand the last piece to the child to put in. The child may click the puzzle piece or just place it in the location. Either way, the child has reciprocated and is now playing with the adult which is the goal. If the child clicks, then the child is trying to imitate the adult, which wonderful. At this early stage of helping a child learn to play with an adult, having a game that has been simplified to a non-verbal turn-taking game, helps the child feel capable of taking a turn. Rather than do this puzzle again, a new inset puzzle would be brought out and with this second puzzle, the adult and the child could take turns putting puzzle pieces in with the adult managing the turns by keeping all the pieces but taking turns clicking in one piece and then handing a piece to the child until this second puzzle is completed. Often, if all the pieces are available to the child, the child will just put them all in and the opportunity to build social reciprocity and turn-taking skills is lost.
Painter's tape is an easy toy to entice reluctant players into a reciprocal game that requires no words The adult points to a place, for example, the child's knee, and then puts a piece of blue tape on the knee. Very likely, the child will pull the tape back off. Repeat. For children who enjoy tape, this can result in very long and reciprocal play sessions. If the child wants the roll of tape, just give them a piece, now the roll. The game is over if the child gets the roll. If the child points to a place that they want the adult to put tape, the adult puts tape on that spot (assuming it will do no damage).