Kids with autism benefit from enjoyable activities, which help them to express themselves, and learn in the process. Sensory activities are essential to help them understand the world they live within, and they can help them to communicate what they’re feeling, and grow in their life journey. Engagement in games and other types of play can help them in their cognitive processes while giving them hours of fun and entertainment. Here are 20 engaging play activities for autistic kids for your consideration.
20. Obstacle Course
Experts at Harkla, suggest making an obstacle course to provide kids with awesome fun that helps them to develop their gross motor skills. Set up an obstacle course with taped areas that either contains soft obstacles such as animal-shaped pillows or other items and have the kids practice walking through the pathways through the course. Spend some time setting it up so it looks visually appealing. Consider your child’s developmental stage and make it fun, yet slightly challenging.
19. Walk like your favorite animal game
Kids with autism enjoy learning about different aspects of things they love. You can enhance the learning experience and make it fun by having them walk like their favorite animal, and emulate that creature. Begin the play session by telling a short story or reading a short book about an interesting animal. Make sure to have plenty of pictures, and even sounds that the animal makes. Use the obstacle course that you made in the first activity, and have the child pretend to be that animal, and go through the course. for example, hopping like a frog and making frog sounds, galloping like a horse and whinnying, jumping like a kangaroo, etc. Each time you play the game, use a different animal to help your child learn more about different animals and how they behave.
18. Build Yoga into activities
Kids on the autism spectrum may receive too much sensory information at once. They need frequent breaks to let their brains rest from the activities. Let your child rest and enjoy a break from mental activities, particularly if he or she is participating in challenging educational activities. Taking a break from difficult assignments to engage in calming practices can help to avert meltdowns or feelings of frustration. When your child is stressed, encourage them to engage in breathing exercises and slow, calculated movements that clear the mind and relax the body. You can incorporate soothing musical tones into the break time to enhance relaxation.
17. Invite your child to help make daily decisions
Kids with autism can benefit by experiencing what it’s like to make decisions regarding their daily routines. The goal is to help them to increase their level of independent functioning, regardless of the level of autism on the spectrum. Ask your child what items they’d like to have added to the shopping list, or what they’d like to have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sit down with them and go through cookbooks or recipes on the internet with pictures of the foods. Let them have a say in what they would like to see on the menu. If your child’s skill level permits, have them help to write out the weekly shopping list and check off the items as they’re put into the cart.
16. Set up a pretend supermarket for a shopping day
Younger kids benefit from toys such as a shopping cart with pretend items to give them practice shopping at the supermarket. Set up a small shelf with toys made to look like grocery items and help your child make a list for meal planning. You can find small plastic shopping carts and an array of toy grocery items at online and brick-and-mortar stores at cheap prices. It’s great practice for kids at a developmental age from 1 through 5. It helps them to develop organized thinking, and to develop skills in sequencing, e.g. making a list, choosing the items, and paying at the check stand. You can be the checkout clerk during the activity, or if there is more than one child, have them take turns being the shopper and the clerk.
15. Make sensory calm-down bottles
Kids with autism can enjoy doing crafts to make sensory and calm-down bottles to help them relax when they feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Calm down bottles are made with a bottle with a cap that seals, water, hair gel, and medium to large flakes of glitter. Add water, hair gel, and glitter to the bottle, then cap it tightly. Kids can tip the bottle to different angles to watch the glitter move and slowly fall through the liquid to detract their attention from the stressors and promote calmness and relaxation. When they’re involved in making the bottle, the kids form a stronger attachment to the object. There are many different types of fillers you can use in the bottles.
14. Create a visual schedule with pictures
Autistic kids benefit from visual cues and familiarity. Create a large, visually appealing schedule that helps to familiarize them with their schedule of daily tasks. It’s particularly helpful for kids with IEPs, working toward learning objectives. The visual schedule may have colorful or enjoyable pictures that represent the task. Schedules may range from eating breakfast, taking a shower, brushing the teeth, getting dressed, learning time, break time, lunch, and so forth.
13. Teach organization skills with the visual schedule
Help kids enhance their cognitive and organizational skills by playing a fun game using the pictures on the schedule. Ask your child which activity comes first. Let them choose. The goal is to help them identify daily routines and organize them sequentially. The practice helps them to become accustomed to a daily routine, which brings a sense of security and familiarity. Visual associations are essential for kids with autism as most are visual and sensory learners.
12. Create a sensory table to explore the senses
Education.com explains that kids with autism explore the world through their senses. A sensory table with objects that are textured with squishy balls that have textured filling is excellent for stimulating their creativity and learning about themselves. You can also create stations that allow them to run their fingers through the sand, then move to a tub filled with colorful slime, and an area with other toys that have different textures are fun ways to experience new things. You can also place tubs of dry sand, moist sand, and wet sand out to help them distinguish the differences in moisture content to add a scientific concept to the learning experience.
11. Play electronic games with sound and pictures
Kids’ computers that feature age and developmental stage-appropriate learning programs are not only educational, but they’re also fun for kids to use. They’re exceptional learning tools that also provide entertainment for hours of educational enjoyment. Choose a program at your child’s developmental level and engage in active play, learning new sounds and associating them with the pictures. Have your child make the sound associated with the picture, or say the name of the thing associated with the sound for building recognition and verbal skills while engaging in fun and active playtime.
10. Build a smelling station
Smelling stations are easy to make, and your child will have fun helping you assemble the play area. All you need are a few items to start. Include familiar things with a distinct scent or fragrance, such as an orange slice, a cucumber, an apple, and any other scented item you have. Add visuals that represent the smell. You can ask your child to close their eyes and place the object under their nose. Ask them to identify the scent. Place the item behind the visual representation, have them open their eyes, point to the picture that represents the scent, and repeat the name.
9. Make a flower bouquet of shredded paper
Shredded paper crafts are fun for kids of all ages. It helps them to strengthen their hand and eye coordination while allowing them to express their artistic side and use their imagination. You will need several sheets of brightly colored construction paper and one piece for the background. Shred the pieces of paper of various colors, then have your child manipulate the shredded pieces to make flower bouquets. Have the child make them on a blank piece of construction paper, gluing the pieces of shredded paper onto the solid paper to make a flower bouquet.
Kids with autism love the feel of objects in their hands. Another take on this project is to have your child trace their hand on a sheet of paper, cut it out, and bend the fingers around the bouquet of shredded flowers instead of gluing them onto the paper. You can help them make stems out of pipe cleaners and glue the paper flowers and leaves to the wire for a lovely bouquet with the paper hand as the base holding it up.
8. Practice making coded stacks from popsicle sticks
Mom Junction recommends a building activity that uses craft sticks to build structures. You can also use markers in different colors to make the craft sticks more interesting. Ask your child to lay the sticks in pairs (2). It helps them to learn counting skills while providing the sensory experience of touching the sticks and organizing them atop one another. Start with pairs, and move to threes, then fours, and so forth. Have your child color the sticks to play a matching game with colors. For example, color 5 sticks blue, and do the same with red, green, yellow, and other colors. Ask your child to build stacks of sticks of the same colors while counting them. You can also ask them to sequence them in color arrangements. It helps teach color coding and math skills with hands-on manipulative experience for sensory stimulation.
7. Make rubbings
Rubbings are fun for kids of all ages. You can use nearly any object to create a beautiful rubbing with paper and crayon. For example, lay a large leaf on a flat surface. Place a piece of paper over the top, then rub a crayon vigorously over the paper to create a rubbing of the leaf below. Your child will marvel as the shapes begin to take form.
6. Create a surprise sensory bin
Sensory bins are enjoyable activities for kids who learn through sensory experiences. Fill a large plastic tub with beans, beads, or rice. Hide several textured toys under the surface, and allow the kids to mine for the prizes. It helps them to learn how to search for items by feeling while giving them pleasurable sensory experiences on their quest. Try to include toys with various textures and degrees of hardness and softness.
5. Plan a daily song time
Children with autism benefit from musical experiences. The audio stimulation can be soothing and comforting. Sing to your child and allow them to play age-appropriate musical instruments regardless of their development level. Some autistic kids have surprised the world around them by becoming savants who excel in performing some activities whether or not they can speak or communicate well. Some kids who cannot speak will hum and make musical overtures. Provide the opportunity through music in some form. It helps to stimulate the senses of kids at all development stages.
4. Engage in messy finger painting
Finger painting is a form of expression that provides the enjoyment of handling the semi-liquid texture of the gooey paint, and applying it to solid paper. Spread a large sheet of butcher paper on the table and encourage your child to make pictures. Give them the freedom to get messy with water-soluble, non-toxic finger paints, with a large canvas to engage in free and active fun. It’s relaxing and liberating to let your artistic side run amok now and then. Help your child create a mural and get in there and help, so you’re making a masterpiece together. It teaches collaboration and freedom of expression while stimulating creativity and the senses.
3. Play the What Would You do? game
Waterford suggests playing What Would You Do? to help kids with autism learn about different scenarios that happen within families. It’s a fun game that involves decision-making at all levels. Ask the child what they would do in a variety of everyday situations. An example is I dropped my pencil, what would you do, or how would you help? It helps to build social skills and reinforce relationship-building skills.
2. Play the How Would it Feel to Be……. game
This is a fun activity for autistic kids that helps them to explore their inner feelings and emotions in connection with the world around them. Read a book or short story, then stop and ask the child how would it feel to be…., and put them into the situation of a character in the book. For example, if a character stubbed his toe, ask the question, how would you feel? If a character gets a surprise birthday present or any other appropriate situation. It helps kids with autism to build empathy for others. It also encourages them to view the perspectives of other people.
1. Take time out for the calm down drawer
A calm-down drawer is essential for kids with autism. It’s a drawer accessible to the child when they feel their emotions getting out of control, overwhelmed, or frustrated. The Calm Down Drawer should contain safe items for the child to access and use. Some ideas for the calm down drawer include aromatherapy pillows, weighted blankets, fridge toys, stress balls, play dough, and other soft manipulatives. A calm down bottle or snow globe works for a calm down drawer.