The Board Game Club They were lonely. They were isolated. They had social challenges. Then their SLP started a gaming club for them, and everything changed. Have You Tried This?
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Have You Tried This?  |   September 01, 2016
The Board Game Club
Author Notes
  • Ken Anderson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Walt Whitman High School in the South Huntington Union Free School District in Long Island, New York. This column is based on his experiences in a previous district. kenwanderson87@gmail.com
    Ken Anderson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Walt Whitman High School in the South Huntington Union Free School District in Long Island, New York. This column is based on his experiences in a previous district. kenwanderson87@gmail.com×
  • Editor’s note: This is the first of two consecutive “Have You Tried This?” columns focusing on use of board games with clients. This one focuses on students with social challenges. The next column will explore board games for adults with traumatic brain injury.
    Editor’s note: This is the first of two consecutive “Have You Tried This?” columns focusing on use of board games with clients. This one focuses on students with social challenges. The next column will explore board games for adults with traumatic brain injury.×
Article Information
Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Have You Tried This?
Have You Tried This?   |   September 01, 2016
The Board Game Club
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.21092016.40
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.21092016.40
A few years ago, Trevor, one of my speech students, asked me to be the staff sponsor for an after-school board game club. An eighth-grader with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Trevor struggled with social interaction, especially initiation and conversational skills.
I was shocked that he would initiate a social activity like a “gaming club” (as he called it), because he seemed truly indifferent to his peers. I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. So began a journey of companionship as the word spread, and students with social challenges trickled in on a quest for belonging.
The process was slow-going, as the idea of board games was incredibly boring to the general junior high population. A few “cool” kids did show up the first week only to quickly disappear when they realized there were no video games. Still, the club picked up four to six regulars—all boys—who made my closet-sized speech office actually look packed.
Initially the club was meant to meet monthly, but that somehow turned into every other day. By the end of the year there were students showing up early to school and staying after, asking if they and a friend could hang out in my office and play games.
How could I say no? It wasn’t the love of Monopoly, Battleship or Uno that brought them. It was that they finally had a friend and a place to go. Kids learned of the club through word-of-mouth, flyers and news that I brought snacks. Nothing motivates kids like food, so we soon had around 40 kids with equal numbers of boys and girls.

It wasn’t the love of Monopoly, Battleship or Uno that brought them. It was that they finally had a friend and a place to go.

Real-life practice
As their speech-language pathologist, I got the opportunity to teach real-life social skills in turn-taking, problem-solving, differentiation of facts and opinions, and so much more. For the kids, the board game was a buffer that allowed them to converse. Social learning opportunities abounded, as they had to:
  • Handle disagreements over how games were played. We discussed cooperating and agreeing on a set way to play.

  • Practice being a “good sport.” We learned about praising others’ success and not bragging.

  • Figure out appropriate reactions. Some kids always think the world is ending when they lose. We talked about how we feel when winning or losing and how to handle those emotions.

  • Behave responsibly in our community. We set up and cleaned up together and often handled big issues with a democratic vote. The students set—and helped each other follow—rules on how to treat one another.

As the kids formed bonds and built friendships, they made visible progress. There was Amanda, a shy girl with ASD and anxiety who for weeks would only sit at the back table and play Connect Four with me. By year two she was joining in multi-player games and inviting others to join. Then there was Brian, who had ASD and a severe stutter. Friendless, he would pace the hallways at lunch time. However, he became a champion to the other students when they saw he could beat anyone at chess.

Pragmatic goals introduced in the speech room would be truly tested in the club. At the next speech session, we’d discuss what had gone well and what needed more practice.

Carryover in motion
I marveled at the carryover skills from speech room to club to classroom. Common interests discovered in the club became conversation topics, which led to turn-taking, topic maintenance, asking questions and making comments, which led to bonds of friendship. Pragmatic goals introduced in the speech room would be truly tested in the club. At the next speech session, we’d discuss what had gone well and what needed more practice.
The kids realized that these simple skills could be applied to other kids outside the club and they formed new relationships. I even had a club member who was not on my caseload make me a card thanking me for “saving his social life.”
The treatment aspect of the club enabled me to collect more data and write more detailed student observations for my progress reports. IEP meetings, oddly enough, became exciting when I had positive information to share with the family. I was able to reassure nervous parents of new kids with stories of how students in the club shared cellphone numbers, sent each other Facebook friend requests and hung out on weekends. Kids who once sat alone at lunchtime now sat with a table of friends.
This project has truly helped me realize my professional role in imparting life skills along with social communication. It is a real treat to improve your client’s treatment outcomes and overall life: Trevor went on to high school and found a small group of good friends. And that’s all most of us want: a few really nice people to hang out with and talk to.
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September 2016
Volume 21, Issue 9