Autism, or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a range of developmental conditions that affect how an individual perceives the world and interacts with others.
For children with ASD, arts and crafts activities that incorporate the senses can be an effective way to improve your child attention span, self-expression, and reduce any anxiety related worries.
Why Play is Important for Children with Autism
As it turns out, not one thing that children do is separate from observation, imitation, and learning. Their playtime is not random. They are always processing new words, actions, and skills that they have been taught or that they have seen someone else do.
When you think about it, play is almost like a rehearsal for life in the present and in the future. Children find their identity through play and sort out feelings through play.
Playful activities teach social skills, inspire creativity, increase learning and understanding, improve communication and develop fine and gross motor skills.
At Right Start, we know that through play, many children find hobbies and interests that evolve into lifelong interests and potential career paths.
For kids with autism, play can be the catalyst for making friends more easily, transitioning from special education settings to general education settings, and being able to acclimate to various social settings.
How to Choose the Right Activities for Children with Autism
Choosing the right play activities for kids with autism is similar to choosing activities for any other child.
Choose activities based on their interests.
This will help to keep the child engaged in the activity. This can help to gradually increase their focus and attention skills.
Structure activities around the child’s strengths.
If they enjoy building things, try to incorporate some building activities into structured playtime.
By using Legos, stacking toys, K-nex, tinker toys, or even something as simple as dominoes, integrating a skill that they are good at can facilitate learning new skills without them even realizing that they were involved in a structured activity.
Cater to their senses.
If your child finds it calming to squish and squeeze textures like playdough or kinetic sand then it would make perfect sense to structure an activity around that particular substance.
Think about which textures, sounds, smells, and sights they enjoy and use those things. Think about how focused some kids can become when music is played. Use that to your advantage when you structure activities for your child with autism.
Keep communication and directions for activities short and simple.
Children with autism can easily become overwhelmed with too many directives at once. To avoid triggering any frustration it is always best to deliver instructions in short and direct statements. Modeling the desired steps or actions is also helpful while verbally explaining them.
What Are the Best Activities for Autistic Children?
The best types of activities for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged kids with autism are activities that take all the factors mentioned above into consideration. Simple activities that are visually stimulating, sensory engaging, and centered around the autistic child’s interests and abilities are the most optimal to consider.
Activities for Autistic Children
Calm Down Bottles
Using any plastic beverage container (water or soda), fill the container with a bottle of glitter glue and warm water. For an extra glittery effect, add another bottle of glitter glue or additional fine glitter before adding the warm water. Close the bottle and shake it up.
The glitter swirls for an unexpectedly long time and slowly settles. Kids with autism will be mesmerized for long periods of time by all of the swirling and spinning which will eventually slow down and settle on the bottom.
Calm-down bottles are ideal for long waits, car drives, getting haircuts, or meltdowns in the classroom. (Great visual/sensory activity for children with autism from preschool to adolescence).
Seek & Find Bottles
This activity is similar to the glitter bottle with the exception of the contents. Seek and find bottles are filled with rice and small objects that you can find around the house or at an arts and crafts store.
The idea is to keep your child with autism occupied by finding all of the objects in the bottle. You can create picture cards to show what items your child needs to find in each bottle or simply ask your child to find a particular object.
These bottles can be a great teaching tool because you can make various themes with each bottle. For example, if Halloween is approaching, you can fill one with jack o lanterns, ghosts, witches, and bats.
If summer is just around the corner, you might make a “seek and find” bottle with sunglasses, beach balls, swimsuits, and watermelons.
You may even want to use sand instead of rice. It’s up to you to get creative and develop a theme that will interest your child. (Great visual/sensory activity for autistic toddlers, autistic preschoolers, and older autistic children).
Yoga Ball Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers with Autism
Toddlers and preschoolers are noted for their boundless energy. They need to spend that energy in appropriate ways or they will find other ways to let it all out.
Using a yoga ball in a designated area with plenty of floor space, you and your child can roll the ball to one another, you can place the child on the ball and teach them to bounce on it while trying not to fall off (great exercise for balance and strength while trying to hold themselves up), or you can lie the child on top of the ball on their tummies and roll them back and forth while holding their feet.
All of these exercises require a bit of coordination which is a great therapeutic strategy for improving balance. (Great physical activity for proprioception- or body position awareness-for children with autism from preschool to adolescence).
Climbing, Jumping, Pushing, Pulling, And Carrying
Kids with autism often have difficulty with body awareness and understanding where they are in relation to space. Because of this, they can appear clumsy, loud, or overly cautious.
Choose activities that encourage climbing (rock walls, playsets), jumping (trampoline, jump rope), pushing (shopping carts, push brooms), pulling (raking leaves, pulling wagons), and carrying (laundry basket, groceries).
Providing multiple opportunities in all of these areas with various everyday tasks can help your child develop better body and spatial awareness. (Great physical activity for autistic toddlers, autistic preschoolers, and older autistic children).