You might remember back when you were a child and your family participated in Friday game night.  You'd all order in pizza or the week's favorite take-out with a coupon and crowd around the table playing endless games and laugh until your bellies hurt. 


You'd be envious that your little brother had more properties in Monopoly, but would feel such a sense of love when your big sister gave you her get out of jail free card. 

In the end it didn't matter win or lose, it was the ability to play as family that carved a spot in your heart. 

Suddenly you flash forward into your present wondering how you could ever attempt re-creating those beautiful memories you shared in your childhood with your child that now has special needs. 

For a moment you feel slightly blue. 

You ask yourself how on earth can we all participate together with games and toys with challenges like lack of gross and fine motor skills, sensory difficulties and lack of verbalization? 

You look over at your child with typical needs then glance back at your other child who has special needs, longing to see them play games and engage with toys together.  

And before you know it your search is on to find a way to make games fun for the whole family...The Special Needs Way. 

Some popular games for families who have children with special needs include, Chutes and Ladders, Trouble, Twister, Hedbanz and Memory.  

The key is to adapting the game and focusing on strengths that your child with special needs has.  

Heidi Fritz, a mother of two children, one of which has special needs states: 

"We like Hedbanz! We don't put Nick's on his head because it drives him crazy, usually put his card on a shelf behind his instead. (He has also been known to cheat by looking at the picture reflected in his tray when we put it on his head! But he always turns himself in.).

Anyway we like it because it does not require any physical movement at all on his part, and is a fun, problem solving, all inclusive game...and capitalizes on his strength - talking." 

Heidi goes on to mention: "Nick and Gus also play Memory and chess a lot. They have developed a system for Nick to tell Gus which card to flip or piece to move, 'Second row, third card.'

If it's a game that can allow Nick to do the thinking for his turn, and get him to practice his self-advocacy skills by giving one of us specific directions about how to move his game piece, it works out great for everyone."

Families that have children with very limited mobility and movement are also finding ways of enjoying family play and games together. 

Rebecca Neyers reports:

"We love Twister. My daughter who can’t make many purposeful fine or gross motor movements can still be laid on the mat and her brother can do his moves around and over her which she LOVES!

We also help her use the spinner. We do help her touch the spots when it is her turn as well."

Built-in therapy also plays a big part with the family participating in toys and games together. 

You may not realize it at the time, but by socially engaging your child in a family game event you are encouraging the development of your child with special needs and promoting the skills they already possess.  

Laura Kramer, who has a son with special needs likes Chutes and Ladders and Trouble. 

Laura states:

"These are very simple games for special needs kids. They involve counting, fine and gross motor skills, taking turns and following directions. I like to do a game once or twice a week to include my son."

I am also the mother of a child with special needs who lacks the ability to sit, walk, talk, crawl and even self-feed, I understand how important it is to interact as a family unit and to find new ways of playing together. 

Like many special needs families, our family also is comprised of a typical sibling. 

So we struggle to balance the needs and abilities of various levels of game and toy play in our home. 

Right now, since our children are both are five and under, we spend a lot of time with remote control cars and simple toys such as Mega Bloks Billy Beats, as a family.  

With technological advances I also have hopes that my children will also have the ability to play side-by-side.  A newly developed game, called Magic Carpet (which you can see in this YouTube clip) by Sensory Guru, is making those dreams a reality.  

Through the Tobii augmentative communication device, a child with special needs can for instance play a soccer game by using eye gaze to direct the direction of a ball while a projection mat allows a sibling or friend to play alongside them by physically playing a game. 

This ground breaking technology of course doesn't come without a hefty price tag.  At nearly $25,000 without the recognition of insurance funding and currently only available to UK residents, it remains a dream. 

But just learning of its existence and knowing what the future holds for families with special needs and the ability to expand technology to include all members in games makes this mom's heart skip a beat. 

As parents to children who have special needs we must always remember to seize precious moments at every possible opportunity and cherish the wonderful memories and time spent together as a family. 

We must remember we're building memories for the next generation to draw from. 

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