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Teaching and Parenting Young Children with Special Needs

IEL Blog: Teaching and Parenting Young Children with Special Needs
Tech time! Video Games and Young Children with Special Needs About
By Susan Fowler, June 2013

S. Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a professor of special education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of the Illinois Early Intervention (EI) Clearinghouse. The Illinois EI Clearinghouse identifies, collects, and disseminates research-based and best-practice materials and information on EI for parents, practitioners, and EI professionals in Illinois.

Dr. Fowler works with students who are preparing for careers in EI and early childhood special education and with graduate students who do research in the area of EI and preschool services. Susan also provides professional development at national and state conferences related to the topic of transition from EI services into preschool and from preschool into kindergarten. Dr. Fowler is past president of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the largest international organization for special education professionals.

Feel free to contact Dr. Fowler through this online form.

Be aware of health and safety concerns

Don’t start too young. Time spent on video games may be lost active play time and lost opportunities for interactions with parents, siblings, and other people important in your child’s life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises introducing video games after age 2. You may want to increase this age; many children with developmental delays are still learning to play and communicate between ages 2 and 3. They need real time opportunities to develop these skills.

Set a limit on time played. The limit ensures that your child does not strain eyes or hurt hands and wrist. Less than 20 minutes is recommended. Consider setting a timer that rings so that you and your child both know that time is up.

Your child’s therapist may suggest specific games to help with a particular need, such as manual dexterity or social skills. Playing games can be a way for children to interact with parents or other children.

Make sure that your child cannot take apart the hand-held device.

Know what’s in the games your child wants to play

Remember to choose age-appropriate games. Games for older children often display inappropriate behavior (fighting), and some have disturbing images. These can confuse and upset young children.

Check out the game before sharing it with your child. A guideline for choosing games is to compare the images and topics in the game to the picture and story books that your child enjoys. Do they contain the same messages? If not, don’t introduce the game.

Monitor game use

If your child has older siblings, ask them to play video games that are not appropriate for preschoolers only when your child is napping or involved elsewhere in the home. Children often imitate older siblings and want to do what they do.

Consider ways you can be part of the game time by choosing ones you can play with the child. While she is playing, describe what is happening, help her label items, and discuss simple or emerging concepts such as here and gone, none and some.

Adapted from the Tip Sheet “Tech time! Video Games and Young Children”


Increasingly, children with developmental delays or disabilities are attending community-based programs where teachers may have limited information about ways to help a child with special needs be a participating member of their community. Parents who have a child with special needs also may want to know more about adapting family activities to more fully include the child.


The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.