Autism spectrum disorder, as we all know, can look different in every child. One thing that has become clear to me after months of quarantine, is that many of my students are really struggling to be indoors so much of the time due to activities being closed or requiring masks. Since so many parents have been asking me for help with this challenge, I decided to write a list of fun activities for kids with autism that can be done at home. I hope some of these ideas inspire you to to get creative and maybe even a little messy!
1. Toy car wash
Set up an area in the house or yard with bowls of water, soap and sponges. Bring some of your child’s favorite cars or other toys that get dirty. Your children will love playing with the soapy water, scrubbing the cars clean, and drying them off again. This sort of sensory water play activity is often enjoyed by kids with autism. It is also a fun way to teach cleaning skills (more important now than ever)!
2. Homemade musical instruments
There are lots of different musical tools that you can make with young children, and creating them can be a fun activity for the whole family. Some ideas you can try include making shakers by filling plastic bottles with rice or dried beans, making rattles by threading buttons or beads onto some string, or making drums by placing tape or fabric over the opening of an old jar.
3. What’s that smell?
Sensory games can be fun and unique activities for kids with autism. As we know, sensory differences (over- or under-sensitivity) is an important component of autism spectrum disorder. A fun game that we like to play is called “What’s that smell?”. To play, you fill a collection of little containers with a mix of odorous ingredients such as lavender, coffee, or soap. Next, place a cover over the top using a piece of cloth and a rubber band. Then, ask the child to identify the different smells.
4. Building with new materials
Many of my students really enjoy building activities! The key to making this familiar activity new and exciting is to try building with different materials. Use your imagination and try building with various materials around the house like empty cereal boxes, Q-Tips, shoeboxes, paper towel rolls, or popsicle sticks. It’s a great activity to do as a family, and a fun twist to an old favorite activity.
5. Recreating famous paintings
Many children with autism are skilled visual learners. Drawing or paintings activities offer extensive possibilities to develop fine motor skills. One fun way to inspire creativity is to show children a famous painting (like Van Gogh’s Starry Night) and ask them to paint their own version. You may be surprised at how impressive their version is! Remember, the goal is not a perfect duplicate, but creativity and fun.
6. Make a sand table
Sometimes the simplest activities are the best. This is another fun twist on an old favorite: the sandbox. All you have to do is find a large container with high walls and fill it with either regular sand, or possibly magnetic sand. Make sure to include a good selection of toy-tools like rakes, buckets, and molds. Your kids will love the sensory stimulation of the sand and can express their creativity by building things with sand!