Play is not just for children! Appropriate utilisation of play- and game-based learning for adults with an intellectual disability

Dr Anna Moffat1

1Cara, Australia

We are increasingly aware of the benefits of play beyond childhood. Play can increase understanding and integration of concepts and the development of skills where the play- or game-based approach is flexible, dynamic and engaging. We aimed to introduce targeted play- and game-based learning to support customers with intellectual disability to work towards personal goals using a dynamic and engaging approach.

We implemented a step-based procedure to encourage support workers to utilise principles of play- and game- based learning with adult customers with an intellectual disability. The procedure ensured that play and game-based activities were age-appropriate and tailored to customer preferences and goals. Time spent engaged in play and game-based activities and independent ability to complete activities were observed at baseline and during implementation of the procedure.

Customers showed an expanded range of activities engaged in following implementation of the procedure, and increased time spent with housemates where customers lived together. Skill development in relation to waiting, turn-taking, fine motor skills and emotion recognition and regulation was documented against steps in the procedure in customers with intellectual disability accessing support services where the procedure was implemented.

Play and game-based learning is an appropriate and effective way to engage adult learners. Use with adults with intellectual disability must always consider age-appropriateness to ensure that the customer’s adult age is respected and activities that risk infantilisation are avoided. Play and game-based learning programs must be individually tailored to ensure customer preferences and goals remain the focus.


Anna has a PhD in psychology and a background in managing programs that combine research and service delivery. She is currently Practice Leader, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Mental Health at Cara which is a large disability services organisation in South Australia.