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Games & Activities to Help Special Needs Kids Develop Everyday Skills

No child is born with the skills needed to function normally in society. In addition to the development of fine and gross motor skills, it is the role of every parent to slowly introduce concepts such as sharing, critical thinking and manners.
Special needs children struggling with these will require additional interventions on a consistent basis. Strengthening motor, social, communication and other everyday skills today will lay a proper foundation that will undoubtedly provide valuable stepping stones for your child’s future.
Here we’ll discuss five critical aspects of growing up and provide five fun and simple activities to strengthen each.

Use the links to skip to a skill:

Social & Communication Skills

Critical Thinking Skills
Behavior & Emotions
Balance & Movement
Tactile & Sensory Input

Social & Communication Skills

Being able to communicate with your child and giving him the skills to effectively communicate with the world is an invaluable tool. Proper communication affects every aspect of life, from home and school to friends and the workplace.
Building communication and social skills might include:

  • Listening
  • Following instructions
  • Being able to ask for help
  • Taking turns and sharing
  • Taking responsibility for behaviors
  • Appropriately interpreting reactions and social cues

Many of these skills are normally learned over time, and children will be able to exhibit many aspects of these skills by the time they are three years old.
No matter your child’s age or needs, it’s important to remember to keep your expectations firm but realistic. A child who is not capable of your demands will become frustrated and insecure, while a child who is capable of more than you are willing to enforce will suffer from a lack of structure and positive stimulation.


Most kids have what’s commonly referred to as “selective hearing.” But when it comes to children with special needs, the problem is more complex than that. Children on the Autism spectrum or those with ADHD oftentimes have trouble overcoming even simple distractions, making listening a real challenge.
Practice listening with your child every day to give him the best chance of mastering this skill to his abilities. By reducing distractions, keeping it simple and making eye contact when interacting, you’ll be able to ensure the best odds of being successful. Over time, you’ll learn what distracts your child and what can divert his attention; cues like changes in your voice’s inflection or music may help along the way.
Practice listening by using puppets to role play and by reading books together.

Following instructions

In order for your child to follow instructions, she’ll first need to be able to listen without becoming overwhelmed or distracted. Only when she is able to give you her attention, will you be able to expect her to follow your instructions. Keep instructions simple at first, and break longer instructions into small digestible pieces. By assigning small and manageable tasks such as helping to set the table or putting away laundry, you’ll be providing plenty of opportunities to celebrate successes throughout the day while teaching valuable life skills.
Minimizing distractions, speaking clearly and patiently waiting for a tasks to be completed will set your child up for success.
You can practice following instructions with exciting games such as Simon Says or the Hokey Pokey.

Being able to ask for help

Some children are more stubborn and independent than others, but being able to ask for help is a valuable skill that can save you and your family from hundreds of temper tantrums and meltdowns over the course of time. Asking for help is a skill requiring and reinforcing other skills that include communicating, logical thinking and problem solving, reasoning and, finally, self-esteem. Not all special needs children may be capable of mastering such an involved skill, however, openly communicating with your child on a daily basis, whether they’re building with blocks, tying their shoes or completing homework assignments, is the first step in teaching them how to ask for help.

If your child needs help and doesn’t know it, offer it.
Create helping experiences that are positive to empower your child. Asking for help should never be discouraged or punished.

If you feel like your child has become dependent on asking for help, don’t despair. Some children require more frequent positive reinforcement in order to take their first steps toward independence.

In your home, the parent takes on many roles. One of these is the helper. Allow your child to rely on you to step into this role when your help is required, building his confidence in the process.

Taking turns and sharing

Sharing is caring, but caring requires empathy. Many children with developmental disorders on the autism spectrum have difficulty with this concept, and practicing with verbal cues alone may not be enough.
Help your child to get a hang of sharing by using visual timers to set limits for toys and activities and play games geared toward taking turns, such as Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land.
Try incorporating learning activities like the Emotion Cards shown here, which discuss emotional scenarios and feelings to help your child learn about empathy.

Taking responsibility for behaviors

Kids with special needs face many challenges, but any good parent or educator knows that there is no such things as a free pass for bad behaviors when your child is capable of understanding the difference.

Be open and forward about what you expect from your child and follow through on punishments like Time-Out consistently.

As a part of proactive parenting, it’s also vital for you to know your child’s emotional limits and provide proper alternatives to bad behaviors before it’s too late. No child is born with appropriate coping skills, and it’s the job of the parent to nurture these in age-appropriate ways.
Giving your child alternative options can include helping him delay instant gratification through distractions, offering a quiet and comfortable space to calm down or talking it through.

Appropriately interpreting reactions and social cues

One of the most important aspects of strengthening communication and social skills is being able to interpret cues from others. Kids with special needs oftentimes grow up more isolated than their peers because understanding social cues, whether verbal or physical, is an ongoing learning process that requires lots of practice.
We recommend using flash cards and engaging in fun games to help your child understand subtle nuances, and talking about feelings frequently to help verbalize internal emotions and deal with them appropriately.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is a complex skill that’s developed over long periods of time, but it’s important to get started early. Critical thinking in children starts by introducing language related to concepts that explain spatial relationships, the passage of time and feelings.

Sorting & Matching

Whether you’re using colored marbles, card games or food, sorting and matching items based on common characteristics such as shapes, colors or sizes encourages children to make connections needed for logical thinking.
Sequencing games like this colorful wooden stacking game are designed to help children improve pattern recognition, matching and fine motor skills.

I think...I wonder…

Raising questions about the world around us is a great way to shape critical thinking. Whether at home, in the car or at the park, encourage your child to raise questions and to form hypotheses.
Talk about where other people may be going, whether it might rain, or when the mail will arrive today.

What comes next?

Being able to understand the sequence of things is vital to critical thinking. Games exploring if-this-then-that concepts will help children to explore consequences and abstract ideas such as “before” and “after”. Concepts like these are tricky since they change with every scenario, and often include more than one step. Practice what comes next by talking to your child about books you’ve read, giving him basic instructions that include a before and after step and learning about choices.
Games like the one pictured here are designed to help children with concepts like cause and effect in fun and easy ways.

Behavior & Emotions

For special needs children, the challenges of controlling behavior and managing emotions are never ending. As a parent, you can help your child with behavior and emotions through the use of positive reinforcement, with visual or verbal cues, by offering better choices, enforcing consequences and being consistent every day.
We offer lots of fun games and activities to make practicing good behavior and understanding emotions more fun. By keeping children engaged, you’ll be able to help them develop good manners, anger management strategies, empathy and language.

Balance & Movement

Improving balance, coordination and strength are all parts of everyday functions including sitting, walking and running.
In children with sensory integration disorders, vestibular stimulation plays an important role in the development of balance and movement, which includes your child’s awareness of his body in a particular space.
The playground is one of the best places to provide vestibular stimulation and practice balance and coordination. Proprioceptive input, which helps kids to understand the relative position of their own body and its parts, can be achieved through pushing, pulling or lifting objects such as medicine balls.

Some children seek sensory stimulation and proprioceptive input to satisfy, soothe or stimulate. Other children avoid this kind of stimulation and will require it as part of the therapy they are receiving.
We carry a variety of fun games, sensory swings and many other products to help your child with balance, movement and proprioceptive sensory input.

Tactile & Sensory Input

If your child has a sensory processing disorder, and is receiving too much or too little input from the world around him, providing tactile and sensory input regularly can help. Sensory input it closely linked to balance and movement and many available therapies will overlap.

Creating a sensory environment for your child can be soothing or engaging, and will be designed to help explore new tactile, visual or auditory sensations.
By introducing sensory information in a comfortable environment, children with sensory processing disorders can learn to appropriately integrate and respond to daily sensory input.

Sensory input can range from jumping and swinging to chewing and deep pressure. Sensory input activities may include looking at lights, feeling different textures, being hugged by a tight wrap or rocking.
A simple fidget bag on the go will provide distraction and stimulation in a hurry.