How do You Find Age Appropriate Games for People with Intellectual Disabilities?

by Joanne Hale

I was faced with the challenge of finding an entertaining, age appropriate, game for my 18-year-old son. He experiences life with Autism and mild intellectual disabilities. He is not interested in games that others might enjoy; he does not like shooting, violence, chasing, speed and all the other elements of games that are usually popular with boys his age. He doesn’t want to spend time learning complicated rules or characters. He reads well, but not quickly enough to react quickly. He is not comfortable with the scary or supernatural; he would like to operate in a Disneyesque universe when relaxing and playing a game. All this creates a continual challenge when searching for suitable games.

Recently we found the series of Hidden Object games from PopCap Games, a highly successful game developer. It produced Bejeweled and the wildly popular Plants vs. Zombies. A hidden object game is very simple, and instantly playable by almost anyone with basic reading skills. Players are presented with a graphically rich illustration in which a number of objects are cleverly hidden. The list of hidden objects is at the bottom of the screen. Each object is represented by either a noun or a clue. The item is usually the graphic representation of the item or the word. The challenge is that sometimes a word can represent several items for example “club” could mean the suit on a deck of cards, a golf club, or just the word. Some items do have simple clues like “measures things” for a ruler.

It is possible to turn off the timer in the settings but you have plenty of time to complete each level. After you have completed finding all the objects you get another puzzle, which is more of a jigsaw type or word search. That puzzle leads to the next picture. This game does not get harder as you progress so there is no chance that you will get to a point that will be beyond the ability of the player. You can have as many hints as you wish so if you will eventually find that last item. This avoids a lot of frustration which can turn people off other games. Once you have finished all the levels you can start again with a whole new set of objects to find. If you click on an item that is not on the list there is no penalty.

We were impressed that our son (who hates new things) took to this immediately. We hear him in his room playing regularly. While I would not class this as an educational game, it is an engaging and relaxing one for our son, something that is not easy to find.

We purchased 3 different themed games (world travel, ancient Egypt, and underwater) in a pack from a big box retailer for just under twenty dollars. I can also recommend an online retailer called Big Fish Games you can try before you buy online to see if this will work for you: www.bigfishgames.com They have dozens of games, lots of different themes and it is very inexpensive. We plan to buy a zoo based game in the future.

I do recommend buying games on line because most sites allow you to try before you buy. This is especially important if your are buying for someone whose needs restrict the kind of games he or she might be interested in or the kind of game they can play successfully. It is not always obvious from the game description whether the game is appropriate.

If you have other suggestions for appropriate games for any child with special needs, please send a comment and we will publish them. Good resources to share will also be welcome.

Joanne Hale

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