One skill that may be difficult for an autistic child is how to handle losing a game. Autistic children tend to thrive in predictable situations. They love their routines and may become very distressed when a routine is disrupted. Playing games can be unpredictable. Although each game will have its own set of rules, different things can happen in the game. The outcome of many board games is the result of chance. In some games, the outcome is partially due to the player’s abilities and partially due to chance. In a few games, the outcome is completely based on a player’s skills. Losing skill-based games may be easier for a child to accept. Some children will have great difficulty accepting the unpredictable outcomes of games involving chance. Increased tolerance to losing will help a child more fully enjoy participation in game-based activities.
Procedures for teaching tolerance to losing
The following procedures are based on those described by Koegel (2004).
Come up with a list of games that can be played and sequence them in the order of least to most difficulty with accepting losing.
Select a reinforcing item to use for participation in the game. In my house we called this “game snack.” After a game, everyone would get a snack. If the child had a particularly difficult time with losing, then they can get a higher value snack.
Teach appropriate ways to respond to losing. For example, the child could say, “Good game!” or “You played well!” to the other players. Explain the reward for staying in control and having good sportsmanship.
Come up with a regular time to practice playing games. Ideally, this should occur daily or several times per week. Start with a game that the child 1) will likely enjoy the most and 2) is less likely to mind not winning. Review ways to be a good sport prior to playing and remind the child about the reward.
As the child progresses, begin to play other games from the list in order of least difficulty to most difficulty with accepting losing.
This process is not an overnight solution, but with regular practice, you will see progress. I used this procedure with one of my children and it took daily practice over the course of months to overcome this challenge.
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