As a special needs mom, a big part of my weekly schedule is filled with therapy appointments, which means an even bigger part of my week is filled with driving to and from those appointments. In an effort to reclaim some of the wasted time in the car, I began to build an arsenal of activities that could be done while driving. These language boosting games are not only fun, but use those long car trips to reinforce needed skills.
- Press Pause. Music is a powerful tool for kids on the autism spectrum and other non-verbal disorders. The rhythm and repetitive nature of a favorite song can soothe a meltdown, but songs can also encourage speech. While playing a favorite song, press pause and encourage your child to ‘fill in the blank’ with the next words or phrases. Even reluctant talkers can be persuaded to keep singing their favorite tune.
- Mystery Item. To keep busy during the drive, I packed a basket full of toys to keep beside my son’s seat. This basket of toys is easily transitioned to a language building activity by asking my son to choose a toy and describe it to me so I could guess the item without seeing it. Receptive language is improved as he describes the shape, color, and function of the item. He is also working on hearing my questions and answering appropriately.
- Pass the Story. This is a classic childhood game that can involve the whole family while building vocabulary, listening and language. One person starts a story and verbally shares a few lines before ‘passing’ the story to the next person to continue. My neurotypical children loved to jump in and play this game, and their participation encouraged their brother to join in the fun.
- I See. A simplified version of I Spy, this game is a vocabulary boosting activity using the objects seen outside the car window. In our early language learning days, I would simply name an object that I could see, and encourage him to take a turn naming something he could see. As his language improved, I added adjectives to the items we passed. This receptive language activity allowed my son to hear some of the adjectives I used, and then practice adding descriptive words of his own.
- What do you do, dear?: One of our favorite car games was based on one of our favorite books, What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin. In the book, characters learn the correct manners to use in social situations. We used the same principle to practice executive functioning skills and proper social responses in a variety of situations. For example, I would ask “What do you do when you need to get ready for bed?” As he listed the steps, he was practicing his vocabulary and planning skills.