A tabletop game to improve social skills for young adults with autism

Well-being is not a given for students on the spectrum and often stems from a lack of social skills. With the Sisters of Nature, students with autism spectrum disorder can develop their social skills in a safe environment with the help of a coach or teacher in the form of a tabletop role-playing game (RPG).

Who are they?

Students in the Netherlands in higher education experience a lack of well-being in comparison to their neurotypical colleagues. This research and design was done for the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam to create an innovative tool to help increase student-well being for students with autism spectrum disorder.

Can a TTRPG be designed to support the development of social skills of students with autism spectrum disorder?

A lack of well-being due to being on the spectrum

Hanze University of Applied Sciences has many students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and with them every other University in the world. Experiencing a positive state of well-being throughout higher education is not a given for students with ASD, which is often caused by a lack of social skills. On the other hand, it is difficult for educational professionals in higher education to support this specific student group in their development.

The target audiences

To understand both users, user research has been done in the form of interviews, and scientific desk research. The results of these led to the content research to create a better understanding of the user’s needs but also to figure out the best fitting teaching methods and mechanics to enhance the effectiveness of the product. The main results are that cooperative learning and strength-based learning would fit both the teacher and student role as well as fitting mechanics within a Table Top Role Playing Game.

Clever design choices

Best practices and methods have been used to ensure ease of use with the highest possibility for learning and development by using the following UX methods.

The balance of flow

The experience with the game needed to be easy. Research showed that educators struggled to support students with ASD in their development and not all were familiar with playing tabletop RPGs. This requirement ensured a simple structure set up to the game, a linear story that was easy to present to the students and with tips and tricks per event on how to support the students.  A simple dice flow needed to be designed so the focus would be on developing skills instead of learning game rules.

Challenge & Support model

As the teacher, as one of the users, was not familiar with tabletop role-playing games, they needed a method to be able to become the game master without having to learn too many new skills. The Skills vs Challenge theory says that when working with a new product the user should be able to understand either content or process, if neither is known, the user will be lost as the challenge will be too high.  A supporting method for teachers, called the S.A.F.E method, was developed to ensure teachers were supported in their role of game-master.

Walkthrough Testing

Several educators with various skills in both education and TTRPG’s participated in the user testing. A set of walkthrough scenarios were set up, with moodboards, to guide the user through the scenarios, a think-aloud method was used for the users to talk about their thoughts and actions and a semi-open interview to learn more about the user’s experience both during and after the walkthrough. The goal of this test was to learn about the practicality of the product: in what way is the user capable of using the product and where are adjustments/improvements needed.

I would definitely use this product in my practice as an academic counsellor. I think it makes learning fun and more interesting for both me and the student."

M. BonnemaTeacher at CMGT, Hanze University of Applied Sciences

What’s next?

A prototype for the game has been realized and has been successfully tested. Funding would be needed to further develop this product and make it market-ready.

Do you have a project in mind?

I would love to talk to you about the possibilities for your brand. You can contact me via: info@odettejansen.nl or via phone at +31(0)6 1191 8501.