Virtual Reality Programs as a Social Learning Tool for ASD


Does using technology to assist children with ASD further alienate them because social interaction is missing, or can it actually effect the opposite- by teaching them to socially interact? While some researchers say that    sitting at a computer screen … Continue reading

Mom Develops Social Skills Game


Mom Develops Social Skills Game


Pamela DePalma’s son Daniel has Pamela DePalma’s son Daniel has Aspergers Syndrome. Like any parent she has made sacrifices to help her son. Like any parent she has made sacrifices to help her son. Seeking better services, she moved from Illinois to Phoenix, Arizona. While there, Pamela met child development specialist, Rhonda Whitaker, who worked with Daniel. Using Monopoly pieces, she created a game designed to teach social skills to older children with autism.

“I was excited about it because there’s not a lot of games for older kids with autism. As kids get older, the resources start to fall away,” said DePalma.

Daniel’s social skills were improving with the game and that is when DePalma and Whitaker decided to create their own game, based on the game Whitaker designed. They formed the company The Developmental Garden together and began selling “Give Me Five,” the board game, along with an app based on the game for iTunes.

With 8 different categories, the board game contains 240 cards. Taking turns, players listen to a scenario, determine what the characters are feeling, and then role-play various situations. Even children who are not on the autism spectrum are enjoying game this non-competitive game. Amy, Daniel’s seven year-old sister, says, “To be honest, I’m actually learning things from these cards.”

Videos of social situations are included on the app, which are incorporated into a game. Children on the spectrum can even play solo because it give them an opportunity to practice without the pressure of needing to interact.

“A lot of kids who struggle with social skills are attracted to gaming. At the same time, they’re learning social skills,” says Whitaker.  Recalling how using the app improved one boy’s social skills, Whitaker said, “By the fourth time (of using the app), he was generalizing information that he learned, not just memorizing. It was super cool.”

Instead of telling strangers or other children when he felt sick, the boy learned to find the appropriate person who could help him in that situation, specifically his mother or grandmother.

To date, The Developmental Garden has sold approximately 80 apps and 50 units of the “Give me Five” board game. So far, two schools  inArizonaand one school in theChicagoarea have purchased the game. Getting the board game into as many schools as possible is De Palma’s goal.

With the game and the app being a huge achievement, it’s only the start for the new company and DePalma and Whitaker.  They are committed to providing parents and teachers with as many resources and tools as they can to help every child learn and grow.

“To provide resource tools to parents and professionals which nurture developmental prosperity through love, respect, and understanding of children,” is the company’s mission statement.

“Give me 5: What a wonderful social game for all ages! It targets most social-language concepts all in one interactive board game. Role-playing, non-verbal language, self-presentation, and much more! Finally. . . a well-rounded social language tool for teachers and therapists,” says Shanna Stoller, SLPA.

 The Developmental Garden “Give me Five” game and apps.

 For more information and resources, please visit

Learning How to Converse

A 14-week program is offered through the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus, where high-functioning teenagers with autism learn the social skills they may struggle with.

Social interaction and social skills is something many diagnosed with autism struggle with, and thus require a different type of learning how to make and maintain healthy friendships and relationships. The instructors use unique methods to teach their students, and have been quite successful in teaching basic social skills.

Assistant director of the program, Ali Cunningham, explains,

“It’s not a skill that comes natural to teens on the autism spectrum… don’t learn this just by watching other teens and then acquiring the skills, they actually have to be taught the skill. Most of them may have difficulty initiating friendships where they have very few or almost no friends, others are really good at the initiation part but then that maintenance part where people have to stand you for a long time gets a little tricky.”[i]

We at Shema Kolainu understand the value of teaching social skills for those who may struggle with the necessary skill-set. We offer an excellent workshop series, including “Teaching Play to Children with Autism,” to be held November 21st. Please email if you are interested in attending this workshop, or learning about the other workshops available.

[i] “News Channel 5” FAU autism center provides instruction for teens in social and conversational skills. 29 Oct 2013. Web. <>

Virtual Reality: Can Video Games Teach Social Skills?





A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reveals a distinction between uses of technology for autistics and typically developing children, suggesting further development of recreational technology tailored to develop social skills. Researchers Micah O. Mazurek and Colleen Wenstrup measure how children with autism spectrum disorder use technology in comparison to their typically developing siblings. Findings show that children with ASD spent 62% more time watching television and playing video games than in non-screen activities combined. Children with ASD showed more risk of “problematic video game use,”i spending on average about an hour more each day gaming then their typically developing siblings. However, siblings were found to spend more time using social media or socially interactive video games. Autistics often demonstrate obsessive, highly focused characteristics, which are beneficial for performance with video games. Games and tablet/phone apps for autism have been in vogue as of late and can be very useful in preparing autistics for careers. However, these programs do not take into account social stimulus. If autistics are steering clear of socially interactive video games, how do we incorporate social skills into the strategy of video games. Dr. Mazurek asserts the potential of utilizing video games for autistics saying, “Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away. However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual realty environments would translate into actual social interactions.”[i] What games do your kids prefer and how do you think these games might be altered to strengthen social skills?



[i] “Research Finds That Video Games Hold Both Risks and Rewards for Children with Autism.” Digital Trends. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <>.


Mazurek, Micah O., and Colleen Wenstrup. “Television, Video Game and Social Media Use Among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2012): n. pag. Springer Link. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <>.


Improving Social Skills for Adolescents with Autism

The junior high and high school years are emotionally challenging even under the best of circumstances, but for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), that time can be particularly painful. Lacking the social skills that enable them to interact successfully with their peers, these students are often ostracized and even bullied by their classmates. Continue reading