R.O.C.K.™ in People Games: Building Communication in Children on the Autism Spectrum or with Social Communication Difficulties

People games are fun, physical activities that you can play with your child to help build their interaction and communication skills. These games do not include toys because you are the part of the interaction that is fun! Some examples of people games are ‘peekaboo’, ‘tickles’ or swinging in a blanket.

People games are particularly helpful for children on the autism spectrum or who have other social communication difficulties because they provide many opportunities to build some of the key interaction skills that these children may have difficulties with. These skills include:

  • Connecting with others for social purposes
  • Paying attention to others
  • Copying what others do
  • Taking a turn in an interaction
  • Waiting for others to take a turn
  • Using sounds, actions and words as part of the game

To make the most of people games to help your child learn, you can use a research-based strategy called R.O.C.K.™ The R.O.C.K. strategy helps you make the game structured and predictable, which creates many opportunities for your child to interact with you and take a turn to keep the game going.

R.O.C.K. stands for:

R Repeat

Repeat what you say and do. You might have to play the game several times, using the same actions and words so that your child understands how the game works and what to expect.

O Opportunity

This is the turn that you want your child to take to keep the game going. Your child’s opportunity depends on how they communicate now. What kind of turn can you expect them to take? For example, could they make a sound? Move their body? Use a word?

C Cue

This is what you do to let your child know that they should take their turn. The best kinds of cues are natural ones such as stopping after you have finished the game and waiting, looking expectant so your child gets the message that they should take a turn. But, if they don’t take their turn, you will need to give them more help, such as showing them what to do (by doing it yourself) or physically helping them.

K Keep it going and keep it fun!

The goal of people games is to get your child to play with you in a back-and-forth interaction that lasts a long time. This means that you take a turn by playing part of the game, then your child takes a turn and this continues many times. Turn-taking in people games is an important step towards having real conversations. The best way to keep it going is to make the game fun for your child so they'll want to continue.

R.O.C.K. During a Bouncing Game

Here is an example of how you can use R.O.C.K. in a game of bouncing your child on your knees.

Repeat – Sit face-to-face with your child as they sit on your lap. Bounce them up and down, using a fun little phrase like “Let’s bounce, bounce, bounce!” Repeat the same action with the same words again and again so your child knows what to expect.

Opportunity – Decide what your child’s opportunity might be in the bouncing game (do this before you play the game). What turn could they take to keep the game going? For example, you might expect them to let you know they want you to bounce them again by bouncing their body up and down. Or, if they are starting to say words, they could say, “Buh!”

Cue – Now it’s time to cue your child so they know it’s their turn. After bouncing them a number of times, stop and wait, looking expectant with an animated facial expression. This will encourage them to look at you and bounce up and down or make a sound to let you know they want to be bounced again. If they don't take their turn, give them a stronger cue. For example, raise your heels off the ground as if you are ready to bounce them and say, “Let’s bounce…” Then wait to see what happens. If they still don't take their turn, pick up from where you paused, bouncing them and finishing the line (“bounce, bounce, bounce!”) to show them the game again.

Keep the game going – As soon as they send you a message (with a sound, a movement, a word, or a smile) that they want to keep playing, bounce them and repeat the same words. Once they can play the game with ease, change it up. Bounce fast (For example, “Let’s bounce fast!”) and then switch it up and bounce slowly (“Let’s bounce sloooowly!”) Then ask them to choose, “Bounce fast or slow?” so they can choose which way they want to be bounced. Or bounce them on your knees on a big bed and let them fall off gently onto the bed as you say, “Onto the bed!” Once they get used to this game, they may be able to tell you with actions or words they want you to let them fall onto the bed.

Other games

Here are some other ideas for people games that you might want to try. Remember to R.O.C.K during each of them to help build your child’s communication skills.

  • Swinging in a blanket (you need two adults for this)
  • Chase
  • Lifting your child up in the air
  • Flying your child like an airplane and crashing them onto a bed or a couch
  • Peekaboo
  • Tickles

Plan for People Play – Booklet 1 in the Make Play R.O.C.K.™ Series

If you want to find out more about the benefits of people games and how to use R.O.C.K. and other strategies to help build your child’s communication skills, take a look at our guidebook, Plan for People Play.

This guidebook offers examples of two dozen people games you can play with your child based on their sensory preferences (i.e. what kinds of sensations they enjoy). Detailed examples, illustrations, and “Game Plan” templates make it easy for you to build your child’s social interaction skills while having fun with people games.

Learn More