Social skills are very important to ensure the development of the child into an adult who is capable of exploiting his or her potential to the fullest, as well as is compatible with society at large. Some of the social skills that are imperative for the overall mental and behavioral development of a child are Emotional regulation, impulse control, communication, empathy, cooperation, and social initiation.
Any deficiency in the skillset acquired by children in their formative years can severely impact both their personal and professional lives, even beyond the world of academics.
Remember; all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
The impact of learning disabilities on social skills
The social skill deficit arising out of learning disabilities is a well-documented fact. Researchers suggest that one reason for social skill deficit in children with learning disabilities is their lack of social perception. In a study by Alex ford (1982), the author came to the conclusion that subjects with learning disabilities have a lower level of non-verbal social perception compared to the control group.
This inability to perceive non-verbal cues leads to difficulty in responding appropriately to social situations (Gerber and Zinkgraf). Children with learning disabilities also often suffer from hyperactivity, attention deficit, and maladaptive behavior.
Children with learning disabilities are often known to face issues mainly in the area of Kinesics (inability to read body language), Proxemics (inability to understand how physical space communicates with others), and Vocalics (inability to understand how volume pitches communicate with others.)
This overall leads to lowering of the child’s social skillset and can often undermine his or her self-esteem and confidence. This can lead to a vicious cycle where the child is unable to overcome his or her social anxiety due to confidence issues, which in turn leads to further deterioration in social skills.
The impact most often goes beyond the academic arena, and the child is often unable to develop his\her skill set in non-academic areas like sports, dance, and music.
The role of games in improving skill set
Games can play a major role in initiating social skills in an otherwise people-shy child. Children with learning disabilities often show awkwardness in initial social interactions and online games can play a healthy role in warming them up to different social scenarios.
Researches show that games present challenge, curiosity, and control to the students( Jenkins,2002), and children often display an attitude of interest, cooperation, and active seeking of information towards games. ( Prensky,2003)
Players in a game collaborate with each other and share information, which often leads to overlapping of skill sets. Thus in a virtual world, the basic understanding of different social situations can be achieved, which the child can emulate and translate into real-life scenarios.
On this note, we share with you a list of the top online games that can help your child develop the required social skills while having a blast at the same time:
Best Online Games For Improving Social Skills
1. The Social Express
This app provides kids very animated and very real-life experience of navigating social situations that are a part of daily routine. Respecting the agency of the child, the game allows him or her to make decisions following social cues and not just be passive onlookers.
The game is also designed in a way that allows children to transfer their newly acquired social skills into real life, all the while having fun. Thus, they do not suffer any pressure and are able to develop their social skills while enjoying their playtime as well.
The added advantage of the game is that it can be played as a solo player and is thus beneficial for those who suffer excessive social anxiety.
Game Link: Official Website
This is the next level for online gaming to improve social skills among children. It calls for collaboration and communication between pairs of participants. This way, the children learn the importance of team spirit and also different ways of non-verbal communication.
The game proceeds as the two players take turns guiding each other through a level with the help of gestures and non-verbal communication. The game also helps the children develop self-confidence and achieve a sense of responsibility towards others around them when it is their turn to guide their partner.
It also develops a sense of companionship between the two players and allows the child to view himself as a part of a social setting, and not a mere individual.
Game Link: Website
3. Hall of Heroes
Hall of Heroes is a game specially designed for newbies in middle school to help them overcome the social anxiety of joining new classes and being in a more mature social surrounding.
The game starts with the kids enrolling in a middle school for superheroes, where they get to play with their very own customized avatar. The game proceeds as the children navigate social situations in middle school, avoid peer pressure and discover their superpowers along the journey.
Also, the game simultaneously adapts to each child’s social needs and keeps changing according to the individualized social skill set requirement of the child.
The child’s performance is even recorded and can be evaluated later.
Game Link: Website
4. kloog 2: Return To Zugopolis
This is the second app in the social skills for autism series and continues the journey of the alien character Kloog as it befriends other characters from different planets and learns the meaning of friendship along the way.
The app is specially designed for autistic children to develop their social skills as they navigate the fictional Zugopolis. It also teaches kids how to combat bullying and teach them important safety and life skills.
A wonderful range of characters in the game helps the child remain engaged in the games and explore friendships in the virtual world, which they can later emulate in the real life.
5. Peppy Pals
Peppy Pals is a social skills game that contains gender-neutral animals that socialize and solve problems together. The main theme running through the game is that ‘different is cool’ and thus we should embrace kids of different and varied personalities as our friends and in the process make our lives more colorful.
It contains different personality characters like Gabby, the shy and sensitive rabbit; Izzy, the wise owl; Kelly the mindful cat; Reggy, the adventurous dog, and Sammy, the easygoing horse. It also uses puzzles and coloring exercises to increase the fun fourfold.
Peppy Pals thus helps children develop self-esteem, empathy, and emotional intelligence and teaches them how to nurture healthy relationships.
The app has been developed to be inclusive and uses a range of deeper senses like hearing, sight and touch to stimulate deeper learning. The app, thus, even works excellently with children with special needs such as Autism, ADHD, and Asperger’s.
Game Link: Official Website
6. Zoo U
Zoo U is an excellent online evidence-based game for building social-emotional skills in children. Students in this game get to choose their own avatars and then communicate and interact with other characters.
After the dialog choice is read out, students make a decision on what to say and also on the tone of their voice. After six short scenes, you even get a personalized report of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. The child can then play further 30 skill builder scenes and each step, Principal Wild helps the child with his constructive criticism.
The child can also replay a particular scene multiple times till he masters the skill. This feature can be especially helpful for children with learning disabilities and helps them learn according to their specific learning curves.
Game Link: Website
Tips and Tricks to use the games effectively
Do start with the solo version:
Start with solo versions of the online games, to reduce the nervousness of trying something new for the child. Once the child gets comfortable with online gaming, you can introduce him or her to the multi-player version of the game and slowly develop a sense of cooperation and collaboration in them.
Do set a time limit:
There is no doubt that online games can be of immense help in helping social skills. However, the child should not end up playing with it 24×7. Excess of anything is bad, and games are not excluded from this profound truth.
Hence, parents are advised to set a time limit for how much can be played and the game time can be allotted as a reward for completing his or her homework. This helps develop a sense of responsibility in the child and ensures that it does not interfere with the academic work.
Do Sleep and Get Rest:
Sleep and rest are of equal importance to a growing mind. Thus, late-night online playing should not be allowed and it should also be ensured that the child and his\her eyes get adequate rest. Too much gaming without sufficient rest will be counterproductive as it will make the child cranky and inattentive.
Don’t let them spend too much time by themselves:
Gaming helps only when the skills learned in the virtual world are applied to real life. It is thus important that the children get to spend time with other kids of their age. This can be initiated after they achieve some level of comfort in confronting various social scenarios with the above-mentioned online games.
It is, however, important to not allow them to get addicted to gaming.
Don’t let their physical health suffer:
As a follow-up to the earlier point, it is important that the children get adequate exercise. This, in turn, helps sharpen their grey cells by boosting oxygen supply to the brain, which heightens their cognitive sense.
Maintaining their physical health is thus equally important for developing their social skills.
Online games are slowly emerging to be the game changers in improving the social skills of children with learning disabilities. Their optimum and effective utilization can help your child take one step closer to enjoying the same level of confidence in relationship building as their peers.
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