Teaching with D&D: D&D for neurodivergent players?

As an educator, I have witnessed how playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) benefits neurodivergent players and their parents / caregivers. D&D helps build social skills and is incredibly fun and engaging. This engagement allows parents their own large chunk of free time…which as a parent I know is a help. 😊

D&D gives a player a sense of self-worth and community. Each player’s character has their own strengths and weaknesses and is a valued part of the team. Through D&D, every player also gets a chance to feel included and understood. The turn order element of D&D dictates that every person in the group gets their own turn so that no one player dominates and everyone shares. (except the rogue, of course, who might not share their found treasure! )

While the image of D&D may be one of “go anywhere, do anything, anytime…” it is actually a game of routine. The routine of the game, once understood, helps players knows what event or action is needed. D&D’s routine: The Storyteller (Storyteller = Game Master “GM” = Dungeons Master “DM”) describes the scene; the players state their intended actions; and then dice are rolled to determine the outcome. Repeat. Yes, there is improvisation and role play, but only as much as someone is comfortable with.

At Adventuring Portal, we run our games with empathy and compassion and with an understanding that we are also educating as we play. Our Storytellers are familiar with children who may experience the world differently. While, our own storytellers are not social workers, there are certified therapists who use D&D as the background for their social skills group work. For Adventuring Portal, we are responsive to players with different styles in different ways:

· We often first turn off background music which helps with auditory processing and reduces sensory overload.

· We use Safety Tools as part of our game so that we can avoid and address red flags or trigger areas. Thinking about Maslow’s famous hierarchy, only after everyone feels safe can you move on to learning, playing and fun!

· While our games are 100% online, they are all live guided by a professional adult Storyteller who as mentioned above runs our games with compassion, empathy and an eye for education and group dynamics.

· One learning aid we can provide is a printable character sheet which serves as a tangible item to touch, look at, doodle on, and use as a learning tool.

· Our games can expand boundaries by our use of pictures, social stories, and visual aids, which help understanding and often reduces anxiety and stress.

· Most importantly, we communicate with all families to understand the best way to meet the needs of all players and understand the best way to ensure everyone’s fun.

PLEASE PLEASE note, at Adventuring Portal we are not doctors or social workers and we make no therapeutic promises on any level. However, I am a certified elementary school and middle school math teacher, a parent, and a huge gamer, and am deeply interested in how D&D can be used both socially and educationally. The above was written with love and attention through my school teacher lens and as the founder and storyteller of a business that runs D&D games, both summer camp and after school, for kids. Our groups often have players with many different strengths and needs. Everyone is included and has fun!

Paul Lazrow is the founder and one of the Storytellers at Adventuring Portal, an online service that focuses on running live-guided fun, safe D&D games for kids. Find out more at AdventuringPortal.com.

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Paul Lazrow

Paul Lazrow

Gamer, Father, Partner, Storyteller, Adventuring Portal.com founder, Music Lover, Too much TV Watcher, Canoeist, Chowhound ... not necessarily in that order!