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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Using Games in Social Skills Groups

May 2022 | Katie Frank, PhD, OTR/L - Occupational Therapist, Adult Down Syndrome Center

We have found that incorporating games into our social skills groups can help convey important messages as well as help participants practice appropriate social skills in a non-threatening and fun way! Below is a list of several games and how they have been used in our social skills groups.

  • Jenga can be used to cover a variety of topics. We have attached labels with emotions to the pieces. When participants select a piece, we ask them to demonstrate the emotion or share a time when they felt that emotion. We have also put qualities of friends and boyfriends/girlfriends and had the participants sort the game pieces appropriately.

  • UNO can be used to answer certain questions based on the number on the card they put down. For instance, all 1s are questions about favorite movies, 2s are about pets, etc. This is a great way for participants to get to know one another without feeling pressured to engage in a conversation. Or, you can have the topics based on colors and every time the color changes, a question is answered based on the topic associated with the new color.

  • We have used hot potato to address a variety of topics. When the music stops, the person with the ball has had to identify whether a behavior or place was private or public. We have also identified appropriate places to meet someone to date while playing hot potato. This game can be used to cover topics/themes for a variety of groups.

  • 5 Second Rule is a great game to get people thinking. Participants select a card with a task (e.g. name 3 vegetables) and then the participant has 5 seconds to complete the task. It can be used with small groups and works on team building skills as well as auditory processing. There is a version for ages 10 and older as well as a junior version for those under the age of 10. We have even adapted the game and created our own version for the holidays!

  • Bingo has been used at various times to work on auditory and visual processing as well as following instructions. We modify the Bingo card based on the theme of the group.

  • We have used playing catch to demonstrate the back and forth nature of conversations. When one person is holding the ball, they ask a question and then throw the ball to their partner, who then answers the question, asks a new one, and then throws the ball back. They can even take steps back each time they ask a question to see how far apart they can get from each other during the conversation.

  • Charades can be used to work on nonverbal communication skills, including paying attention to and interpreting others' nonverbal communication. It can also be used to work on following directions. When played in teams, the game provides an opportunity to practice collaborating with peers. Alternatively, the game can be adapted into Pictionary, during which players draw the words/actions instead of acting them out. Pictionary also works on many of the same social skills as charades. 

  • We have used a game called Hedbanz to practice reciprocal conversation skills. Participants wear a headband with an image that they need to identify by asking other players questions about the image. This allows for working on asking and answering questions, staying on topic, listening and paying attention to others, taking turns, and perspective taking (considering what the person does and does not already know when providing clues). 

  • "Pass the Story" is a creative story-telling game in which players build a story by taking turns adding sentences to the story. In addition to listening and remembering what others have said, participants need to use flexible thinking and adapt their sentences based on what others say. The game also requires thinking "on the spot." If generating story sentences independently is too challenging for players, a more structured "fill-in-the-blank" approach can be used. It makes the game more similar to MadLibs (e.g. "Once upon a time, there was a dog named _____). You can also specify a theme for the story as a lead-in to a topic that is going to be discussed after the game. 

Games act as a warm-up so that the participants feel comfortable in a group setting. They also work on skills like taking turns, waiting/not interrupting, listening, and following instructions. All of these skills are important social skills that our loved ones with Down syndrome need to learn to successfully navigate the world around them.

For additional resources, please see the Social Skills section of our library. 

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Please note: The information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical, psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment plan by a qualified professional. We recommend you review the educational material with your health providers regarding the specifics of your health care needs.