Whether it’s attending a party where they don’t recognize anybody or eating lunch at a new school, social isolation is something that most people can relate to. This is especially true for a great deal of young adults on the autism spectrum. For these individuals, they describe feeling overlooked socially, with not too many friendships or invitations to social gatherings. Although there are many resources available for children with autism, there are not as many available for young adults with autism.
In order to help with this predicament, three Stanford University Graduates—Devika Patel, Claire Jacobson, and Nina Ligon—decided to create a game to help adults with autism socialize. Me, Myself, and You (MMY) is the board game they developed that helps adults with autism by providing an easy to understand socializing structure that enables the individuals to share about themselves while learning about other players simultaneously. The game essentially helps individuals on the spectrum to make connections with those in their peer group.
The game’s designers attended game nights at various community centers to learn more about what resources were missing for the adult autism community. Speaking with developmental pediatricians, researchers, teachers, parents, and the individuals themselves, they began to understand the obstacles they faced.
The designers initially struggled when they first began attending the game nights, with one individual telling them off. “The community is initially pretty hesitant to let outsiders come in,” Jacobson says. “It’s hard to work with them unless it’s going to be on their terms and something that they specifically asked for.”
Even though they were met with some resistance, some individuals were happy to help. One particular individual described his frustration about getting to know his roommates to the developers. “He said he couldn’t really connect to them,” says Patel. “That story really stood out to us because it highlighted how isolated he could feel sometimes.”
The lack of socialization within the community became even more apparent when the designers visited Autistry Studios, a workshop in Marin County, California for adults with autism. “Everyone would separate out by themselves and check their phones and play games on their phones,” says Ligon. “We thought this was really good opportunity to interact socially in less of an intrusive setting. We thought, is there a way to help them get to know each other better?”
After speaking with members of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the designers recognized that the best way for members of the group to come together was a game because it would provide a structure for the players.
“If you’re playing Monopoly, there’s a certain set of rules, and pieces and what the board looks like. Everyone understands how to act during a board game,” says Patel. “There’s a motivation to play because there’s a chance of winning. After several of these meetings, a really strong point that resonated with all of us was that board games have this power to be effective if they’re designed to cater to [autistic adults’] needs.”
The designers recognized that the problem with current board games was that they were either too confusing or too unstructured. With that in mind, they decided to create a game that would be easily understood, require no supervision, and would ultimately serve as a tool to help encourage friendships. They took the idea of monologuing—a term used by individuals on the spectrum to express a one-sided conversation in which an individual focuses on something and doesn’t interact with others—and designed a mock-up of a game that would allow individuals to forge connections with their peers.
The initial design, though, wasn’t generating the type of results they were hoping for. The game only allowed for two individuals to play at a time, and it was aimed more towards those who had special interests that they were enthusiastic to talk about, and had the verbal dexterity to do so.
In the end, after many rounds of testing and feedback, the designers opted for a conversation-based concept. The final version of the game includes questions and activities that stimulate social connections in four color-coded categories: Solo, Partner, Team, and Challenge. The answers are timed and once a card’s prompt is completed, the player moves their game pieces to a spot on the board that corresponds to the card’s color.
The Solo cards allow the player who picked them up to answer questions about themselves, like “What’s your favorite smell?” and “Which celebrity would play you in a movie about your life?”, while Partner cards promote interaction with another player with silly prompts like “Take off your shoes, stick them together, and tell us the story of how they fell in love.” Team cards and Challenge cards require every player to participate, with Team cards encouraging players to interact and get to know each other with prompts like “Show us the way you cook your eggs in the morning and tell us who you’re making them for” and Challenge cards encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones with prompts like “Go around in a circle passing this card saying the tongue twister ‘Peter Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers.’”
Another aspect the designers considered was the visual aspects of the game. They opted for a muted color palette and chose hexagons to form the path of the game while the player pieces are easy-to-hold for players who may have difficulty with coordination.
The game’s IndiGoGo campaign recently came to an end and the designers are planning to not only distribute the game to the people who funded the campaign but also donate the game to various organizations and individuals that helped during the development phase. Patel, Jacobson, and Ligon plan on conducting more research to see what long-term effects the game might have and to how the game might do in a more clinical setting alongside other therapies.
“Research and personal, anecdotal evidence has shown us how necessary it is to have meaningful and reciprocal human connections in your life,” says Patel. “We hope to really help these young adults and adults with autism to not feel as isolated or left out. We understand that need. It’s universal.”