Development of Social Skills through Inclusive Games

Many of the most important lessons in life are not learned in the classroom or by hearing a parent’s lectures. They are learned exponentially in everyday life. Underdevelopment of social skills is a huge inhibitor for most children with disabilities. They must learn and practice these abilities every day. Social skills have four categories:

  • Foundational skills of basic social interaction
  • Interaction skills needed to interact with others
  • Affective skills needed to understand oneself and others
  • Cognitive skills needed to maintain more complex social interactions

For children, who spend much of their time in play activities, a meaningful learning process to acquire these talents requires participation in socially inclusive games and sports such as GaGa Ball (aka, Octoball).

Participation Challenges in Traditional Co-Ed Sports

Mamba GaGa Ball Pit on patio

However, today’s youth sports are dramatically different than when we were kids roaming the neighborhood looking for a pick-up game. At an early age, children start to become categorized as “sports kids” and “non-sports kids” as most games require years of skill development to “make the team”. By the middle school years, the separation between kids that excel in traditional sports and those who don’t creates differences that make it much more difficult for individuals to find things that they have in common. In addition, the difference in physical abilities between girls and boys or children of unequal physical stature makes it difficult for them to engage in co-ed sports or multi-age games together.

Disengagement by Special Needs Students

Those who develop not just motor skills, but also social and behavioral skills at even a slightly slower pace get left behind. This often creates a feeling of inadequacy in sports which can damage self-esteem since our society places a high value on our athletes. The student disengages due to negative experiences. He or she shuts down and refuses to engage because of anxiety, leading to a breakdown in the patterns of success. In cases where a child lacks emotional regulation skills, an implosion in the form of oppositional defiance or worse can occur when the time comes to perform.

Importance of Inclusive Games

Inclusive games, on the other hand, involve students with unique combinations of strengths, challenges, and social histories. These activities allow diverse student populations to re-engage and experience success without relying on skills which may be underdeveloped. The same student who couldn’t perform in traditional organized sports can experience true learning and skill development.

GaGa Game – Spontaneous, Simple, and Socially Inclusive

The game of GaGa Ball takes only a few minutes to learn and doesn’t require the mastery of specific skills as is the case in traditional sports such as basketball, baseball, etc., so it creates a level playing field for children of all athletic abilities, including boys and girls in co-ed sports as well as kids with attention deficit disorders, social skills challenges, and others who haven’t participated in traditional sports. Because the game of GaGa Ball has so much unpredictable action, it gives the non-traditional athlete an equal chance of winning. This does absolute wonders for their self-esteem even the very first time they play. We have witnessed countless times that the children who were at first very reluctant to try GaGa Ball become the most eager players as they realize that they can play this inclusive game as well as anyone. You can literally see it in their faces!

In the words of one Recreational Therapist:

“Our therapeutic boarding school for adolescent boys has found the gaga ball game to be fun to play, easy to learn and inclusive for the wide range of ages and ability levels that we have here at Cherry Glutch. As the boys join in and play the game together, they learn the social skills that allow them to interact in a positive way with their peers, they learn how to have integrity in self-refereeing during play and many find an increase in their confidence as they go out of their comfort zone to try something new and learn a new skill. Our wide range of athleticism amongst our boys hasn’t been a problem now that we have the gaga ball game. Each of the boys can join in without feeling inferior to their peers who may have more experience in sports such a basketballs or football. Everyone is on an equal playing field and everyone has the chance to be great, no matter their size, age or previous athletic experience. As a Recreation Therapist, I have seen the many therapeutic implications of this game as well as the health benefits for the mind and body and recommend it to any school or program that is looking for a great new way to engage their students.”

Kyle Langer, CTRS

Cherry Glutch