Health Report: Dungeons & Dragons can be a beneficial teaching tool for neurodivergent children

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:53 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), along with other similar games, has been found to be a beneficial tool for the social development of neurodivergent children.

According to Bekki Grinnell, Special Education Teacher and Board Certified Behavioral Analyst, there a several different categories of neurodivergence. “Neurodivergence just means that the brain is wired a little bit different. Often in the category of neurodivergence is autism, or adults with autism are identified in that category. ADHD is also identified in that category. Dyslexia and dyspraxia are also identified as neurodivergent. Today I think we’re probably focusing on the autism and ADHD aspects as we look at behavior, because the other two don’t necessarily affect behavior - they more affect motor movement or processing of written information. So a lot of times what we see is that we see that people with ADHD or autism have a difficult time with social interactions. They might have low social interactions with their peers, they often have difficulty carrying on conversations, and they also have difficulty with some social play.”

Grinnell explained that behavioral specialists have a variety of methods to help these children with their social development. “Some of the things that professionals do is they utilize play groups, or specifically teach social skills. This might be one-on-one with a behavior technician in the home or in the school setting. This could be the introduction of social skills through the use of a social story where we’re reading about it first, and then we’re role playing it and we’re practicing it with peers. With that, practice with peer groups is often used. So, it’s sort of artificial. We’re teaching these skills through artificial means instead of in the natural setting, because they have difficulty with these social skills.”

Dungeons & Dragons shares a lot of similar exercises used by professionals. The popular table top roleplaying game relies on communication, team work, and other social skills between the players - and according to Grinnell, the structure of the game has been found to be useful in social development. “I think those definitely can help with social development. Some of those games are using strategy. So as players are working together on maybe like a quest in Dungeons & Dragons, the dungeon master (DM) - whether that’s a therapist or someone who is sort of trained to be able to work with kids with neurodivergence - could put in a sort of obstacle, and then the players are working together to overcome that obstacle that’s been placed there by the DM. So this is going to increase their problem solving, [and] is going to increase conversation as they’re trying to work together to overcome this. So absolutely, those kinds of things can be facilitated through a role-playing game.”

Grinnell has experienced the effect of games like Dungeons & Dragons first hand. Her son personally has benefitted from playing the game from an early age. “He has ADHD and he did a D&D club at the middle school level - and now at the high school level he has taken over and has started being a DM for a remote group. So for him that confidence level definitely increased. As he learned the game first of all, learned some of the skills, his attention and on-task behavior when he’s involved... that is increased. He really has come to enjoy creating - that creativity piece of it - creating scenarios and creating what the play is going to look like, and then presenting that to his peer group. Having them want to engage remotely and having them engage through Discord and through online platforms to be able to play has really, I think, boosted his self esteem.”

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