Occupational Therapy for Kids and the Role of Game Play

Autism Awareness Month is over but the work for helping those on the autism spectrum continues all year long. At Blue Orange Games, we get a lot of praise on our games from professionals that work with special needs kids. We are absolutely humbled by this. As a mother to a special needs boy with autism and ADHD, this personally touches my heart. We work hard on creating games so that people of ALL skill sets and abilities can play and have fun.

Neal Carlson is an Occupational Therapist in the public school sector. We initially started talking when he reached out to us regarding Spot it! to share how he utilizes this game with his students. Read about his love of games and the lessons that are taught for his own kids and the kids that he works with.

 Why I Love Games

By: Neal Carlson, OT

One of my jobs as a school-based occupational therapist is to analyze the steps of an activity and determine what skills are necessary to complete it. Take copying something from a smart board, for example. A student must be able to see and process the words, replicate it on a notebook and visually return to the correct place on the board. Being successful at this task requires skills such as visual acuity, shifting attention, visual memory, motor coordination, and postural stability, just to name a few. In short, my job is to determine what skills students need to be successful in school.

That is why I love games. My experience as a therapist and a parent has taught me that games have so much to offer. They provide fun and engaging opportunities to develop skills on so many levels. Below are a few reasons why I am such a big supporter of games in my practice:

1. Games are adaptable – A little creative goes a long way. One of my students was having difficulty copying accurately from a board like in the example I provided above. I determined that it was difficult for him to shift from a stimulus that was close (his notebook) to one that was far away (the smart board). I taped a Spot It card to the wall and had my student sit 5-feet away with the remaining cards. By locating the matches, he was able to build skills essential for school success in a fun way.

2. Games are a form of play – Many people underestimate the value of play as it relates to child development. Games teach important social skills such as taking turns, healthy competition and being a good sport. I have seen so many of my students beam with pride after doing well in a game or showing good sportsmanship after losing. These are important in every phase of life. And if I can step up on my soapbox for a minute…with our society so electronics-centric, traditional games are also an awesome way for families to connect.

Players_LowRes3. Games are skill-building – All the best games build skills. Chess is a great example. The reason why it has been around for so long (and why it is taught in many schools), is because it teaches higher-level cognitive skills such as critical thinking, pattern recognition, and planning. Chess has been linked to academic development, but I always say that many other games achieve the same effect. Games help to build so many skills. To name a few: visual-motor processing speed, attention, fine motor coordination, memory, communication, and emotional regulation.

4. Games are fun – The reason why I value games as much as I do is because GAMES ARE FUN! They bring people together. I can still remember the enjoyment I felt as a kid playing Clue with my friends. Now, as a parent and occupational therapist, I get to see the impact games have had on my own children and the children I provide services to at school.


In addition to working as an occupational therapist, Neal also writes music for TV/film and teaches guitar.  He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and two children.

Neal Carlson, OT


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