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Building Social Skills Through Play for Special Needs Kids

Playtime provides children with special needs a prime opportunity to develop social skills like communicating, cooperating, making eye contact and more. Kids on the autism spectrum or with ADHD, anxiety or other challenges may need extra help learning to engage with peers. Using games and activities, parents can facilitate play that fosters social interaction and relationships.

Below are ideas for simple, fun games and activities that boost social skills for special needs kids. 

Turn Taking Games

Playing turn-taking games helps kids learn this key social skill. Try classic games like Jenga, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Chutes and Ladders, Guess Who? or Uno. Enforce rules about taking turns and congratulate good sportsmanship. Board games also build focus while providing natural opportunities to practice waiting, winning and losing gracefully.

Matching and Memory

Playing simple card games where kids match pairs helps establish eye contact, turn taking and handling frustration. Memory and Go Fish are easy introductory games requiring focus and interaction. Use cards with favorite characters or animals to sustain interest. As skills improve, introduce more complex games like Crazy 8’s or Slapjack.

Picture Charades

Acting out emotions, objects or animals teaches nonverbal communication. Have kids take turns silently acting out a card while others guess. This helps them recognize expressions and body language. Increase difficulty by using phrase cards. It also promotes flexibility as kids act out silly scenarios. Praise creative thinking and good guessing!

Playdough Creations

Making creatures and shapes together with playdough encourages cooperation, sharing and conversation. Set ground rules about taking turns and compromising on ideas. Ask the child to describe their creation to others, promoting descriptive language. Assign a collaborative project like building a zoo to complete together.

Imaginary Play

Pretend play develops language, perspective taking and joint attention. Set up areas for different themes like house, school, superheroes or cars. Model scenarios and conversations by acting out roles first. Use dolls, figurines and costumes to spark creativity. Share toys and assign pretend roles, planning activities as a team.

Obstacle Courses

Designing an obstacle course together requires teamwork and communication. Encourage kids to take turns arranging objects like hoops, cones, and tunnels. Make a visual map to follow and establish rules. Take turns navigating the course, and supporting one another. Time each other and celebrate with a high-five.

Ball Games

Kicking, catching, throwing, and shooting balls helps with coordination while promoting good sportsmanship. Start simple with beach balls before moving to soccer, basketball or bowling. Demonstrate ball skills, then encourage peer teaching. Invent challenges like “How many catches before it drops?” Cheer to everyone’s efforts.

Music and Movement

Dancing silly, follow the leader, freeze dance and musical chairs get kids moving together. Include props like scarves, instruments and hula hoops. Show shy kids how to participate alongside a peer. Assign special roles like the conductor. Follow funky beats with a conga line! Stop music periodically to practice self-control.

Sensory Bin Play

Bins with water beads, kinetic sand, rice, shaving cream or slime provide cool tactile activities. Give each child a scoop as they collaborate creating shapes, digging tunnels and designing mini landscapes. Bury small toys to discover. Make it a bonding activity by sharing the sensory experience.

Setting aside regular playtime focused on building social abilities can help special needs kids master skills like waiting, sharing, communicating, and cooperating. Keep it simple and offer praise for effort. With encouragement through fun activities, they’ll gain confidence in connecting with peers for lifetime success!

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