Post by:

Deiera Bennett

Created on:

March 19, 2024

How to Use Games as an SEL Tool for Autistic Students

Forty-one percent of neurodivergent youth spend their free time playing games. While some people may view video games as a hobby or form of entertainment, they can be powerful tools for delivering educational content and fostering valuable social and emotional skills (SEL). Multiple studies have shown that video games can:

  • Promote creativity
  • Strengthen problem-solving skills
  • Build motor skills
  • Encourage social interaction
  • Teach self-compassion
  • Improve flexible thinking
  • Increase literacy mastery

Of course, the content of the video game plays a major role in how effective it is at helping students strengthen their SEL skills. Social and emotional learning games, like Ava by Social Cipher, empower students to navigate common scenarios and enhance their social and emotional learning skills in a safe, judgment-free environment.

Here are three ways to use video games to teach social and emotional skills:

Emotional regulation/coping tool

Educational video games can help students decompress and provide them with a healthy outlet to release their energy and emotions. Games provide an opportunity for students to focus on something other than the situation that upset them and engage in an enjoyable activity, which can help calm them down when they’re experiencing stress, overwhelm, or overstimulation.

Our SEL curriculum and game, Ava, takes this benefit a step further by teaching students coping strategies and emotional regulation techniques that they can use within the game and in the real world. Throughout the game, students encounter scenarios reflective of real-world challenges, such as meeting someone new and advocating for one’s needs.  SEL games can serve as an emotional regulation tool at any time during the school day. Educators who use Ava as an emotional regulation tool typically use it in the classroom or in a dedicated sensory space after a behavior incident or stressful situation.

Practice social skills/ safe place to practice

Gaming can be a highly social activity, which is especially useful for autistic students who may find social situations challenging to navigate. While playing Ava, students meet neurodiverse characters and face social situations similar to those they may face in real life. For example, in the Trust module, students meet characters and engage in a series of conversations to learn how to build trust and how to tell if someone is trustworthy. In the Needs module, students encounter a grumpy character, which teaches them how to navigate situations where the other person is unhelpful or in a less-than-pleasant mood.

The social interactions within the game provides students with a safe place to practice interacting with others. Our accompanying curriculum consists of individual, group, and partner activities that allow students to explore SEL competencies such as social skills, self-awareness, and perspective-taking. Educators who use Ava for social skills development typically use it for a specific amount of time daily or weekly, depending on the students’ individual needs and IEP goals.

Builds confidence

Many educational games include tasks that students must complete to progress in the game. As students play, they strengthen their problem-solving and decision-making skills, resulting in an increase in self confidence.

Our curriculum and game center around an autistic main character and other neurodiverse characters, delivering valuable lessons about self-awareness, self-advocacy, and self-confidence. Each module and curriculum lesson empowers students to embrace their authentic selves and accept others for who they are as well.

Representation is also incredibly important for students’ self-confidence. The Character Creator feature of Ava was designed with representation in mind. Students can create their own characters by choosing from a wide range of options, including diverse skin tones, facial features, hairstyles, and attire. Students can also equip their characters with assistive technology and accessories like wheelchairs, glasses, and noise-canceling headphones.

Ava by Social Cipher blends gaming with social and emotional learning, providing educators with a powerful tool for teaching SEL skills. Learn more about how Ava can enhance your students’ SEL skills in a fun, effective way.


Mazurek, M.O., Shattuck, P.T., Wagner, M., & Cooper, B.P. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of screen-based media use among youths with autism spectrum disorders.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(8), 1757-1767

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