Engaging adolescents in interventions can be challenging however the use of games can achieve similar outcomes in an informal situation. Additionally games often have beneficial side effects such as opportunities to teach social skills in situ.
The old fashioned board game is a contender to improve social anxiety. Whilst no academic study could be found on the empirical effects on board games for teens with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) and anxiety, one Speech Therapist successfully ran an after school board game club (Alter-Muri, 2017). The speech therapist actively taught social skills such as problem solving and negotiation however rapidly noticed that visible social anxiety in one student decreased. As a classroom teacher, I have observed this myself with peers noticing students (co-incidentally with ASC) sitting and observing and including these students in games. Other personal observations of the case study student – Maibeth – is that she has reduced maladaptive emotional regulation when playing board games and will occasionally play cards with peers.
Pretty much all children these days like video games and ASC teens are more likely to like these than others. This is important as it provides instant engagement within an intervention. Mightier is a game that teaches players to notice when their heart rate increases and practice calming strategies. The brilliant aspect of this game is that teens are being placed under stress and to proceed within the game, they must practice adaptive emotional regulation techniques. This approach has been found to be successful reducing externalizing behaviors and an overall reduction in anger (Vaudreuil, Chasser, Hoover, Jacobs & Hirsfeild-Becker, 2017).
Any game that makes a solid connection to the ground is useful to promote a reduction in anxiety (Garland, 2014). This is not academically validated, however, I have been told by at least two different families that their teen with anxiety does much better in the season for their preferred sport. I have also witnessed this with teens with ASC in my own children’s sport teams and seen how training and games calmed these children down, gave them a focus away from their worries and also developed social skills as they learnt to interact with the team (and the team with them).
The teens I have asked said that they gained great satisfaction from hearing/feeling the thump of their foot connecting with the ball and one student felt so much more relaxed after physically hard tackles.
The use of games in the classroom provides a welcome break from routine when things just aren’t working for our students. We can also plan for the inclusion of games as a part of reward programs and learning experiences. One teacher I know gets students to design a board game to do with their subject matter and then they spend some time in their last lesson of the week playing the game. The teacher uses it as a review of the subject matter students have learnt.
Other teachers I know take students outside when they are showing signs of anger or not coping and they play some type of ball sport – depending on what the students like. Over time this has become a coping mechanism for the class and students will request a break outside if things are getting too much for them. I have a student that loves besting me in physical challenges so we will go outside to see who can kick the ball the furthest (he doesn’t care about anyone in the class besting him – he just likes besting me).
The use of Biofeedback video games may be more problematic because there may be access issues to equipment. Not all schools can afford heart rate monitors, however smart phones and watches often have heart rate app which can be used within the classroom. You could provide the same concept of biofeedback by getting students to stop and measure their heart rate. If it raises over a certain amount, they cannot continue the game.