Many autistics have trouble with abstract reasoning and visual memory, which makes the game of chess particularly challenging. These Naef Bauhaus chess pieces, Designed by Josef Hartwig in 1923, are literal representations of their allowed moves (for example, the bishop is X-shaped, since it can only move diagonally). This design allows players to focus more on strategy, and less on retaining possible moves in visual memory; a feature particularly helpful to autistics. Chess board sold separately.
Researchers from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education have launched a startup called Go Go Games Studios to produce games for autistic children. The first suite of games aims to augment autistic children’s cognitive skills, and are available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
“We wanted to use our technical and design skills to serve an underserved audience. We saw Go Go Games as a way to provide learning experiences that work like therapy but feel like play.” [ Wong Daniels, CEO of Go Go Games]
Go Go Games Studios won this year’s Shobe Prize, awarded by the University of Washington’s Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE) program. The prize will support the development of a second suite of games aimed at improving verbal communication in autistic children.
Fluid reasoning (or ‘fluid intelligence’) is the ability to apply knowledge to new situations; as opposed to ‘rote memory’, which is simply repeating the same memorised steps over and over. A deficit in fluid intelligence is one symptom of an autism spectrum disorder like Aspergers or NLD. Researchers have found that a simple computer game called ‘n-back‘ can help improve fluid intelligence, as this Wired article explains (but so far, they’ve only tested it on non-autistic subjects). A free version of the game can be downloaded here (the usual disclaimer: though I’ve downloaded and used it myself, I make no claims as to the fitness of this software for any purpose, or that it won’t damage your computer, cause it to melt, disappear into thin air or eat your lunch when you’re not looking). Versions of the game are also available for mobile devices, search ‘n-back’ for more details.