Children with autistic spectrum disorders can find it challenging to join in with activities. Sensory issues, repetitive physical movements, stimming and commenting are all common manifestations. Often, children prefer to repeat doing the same thing again and again.
While teachers, carers and family members must be sensitive to the needs of the autistic child, being careful not to push beyond known comfort zones, there are plenty of activities that may be enjoyable for everyone. In many cases, being autistic may be of no consequence or actually be an advantage! While you take your cue from the child, you may wish to explore these 4 activities that everyone can join in.
- Lego Play
Lego is so much more than brightly coloured plastic building blocks to play with – it offers endless opportunities for education: it develops lateral thinking, problem solving, planning and organisation. It boosts motor development and teaches 3D thinking. It improves creativity and enhances communication skills.
If Lego is of interest to the child, grab the opportunity and get building! Use blueprints and diagrams to make buildings and vehicles or even create whole cities. Go one step further and watch The Lego Movie, visit Lego exhibitions and conventions or get involved in Lego clubs and competitions. The possibilities for hours of fun are endless.
- Animal Care
Pets can help all children develop social skills and studies have shown that children with autism spectrum disorders can make considerable progress related to social interaction after spending time with a pet animal. It’s not unusual for these children to find it easier to communicate with animals than with people.
If the autistic child is comfortable around animals (and do check – not everyone is!), take full advantage of the possibilities offered. Whether you choose to introduce a classroom pets or start fostering kittens or puppies, organise volunteer outings to farms or animal shelters, or use horseriding as equine therapy for autistic children, there’s a huge choice on offer.
- Art and Craft
While school tends to be focused on academic achievement, education through art and craft activities offers important ways to encourage learning and development in all children. For kids on the autistic spectrum, it’s a perfect opportunity to improve their attention span, foster self-expression and reduce anxiety and distress. Some children have extraordinary artistic vision, while others will simply benefit from learning to enjoy the experience.
Offer a range of art media in a safe area that’s suitable for messy play and be flexible in your choices. Many children will have sensory issues, perhaps feeling unable to cope with sticky or gooey substances; others may want to put inedible items into their mouths. It’s best to start with simple and safe materials like paper, safety scissors and non-toxic crayons or paint and go from there.
- Country Walking
Children with autism are typically not great at team sports, as both their gross motor skills and social and communication skills may be impaired. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy physical activity in other forms.
Why not explore the Great Outdoors? Many children find the peace and quiet of the countryside much more calming than the pressure of the intense social communication expected of them in their usual environments. Children with autism can be extraordinarily observant of all the details around them.
Go for long walks, climb a mountain, do some birdwatching, look at the stars or go fishing. The trick is to find an outdoor activity – either one a one-to-one basis or as a group activity – that combines healthy exercise with a stress free and supportive environment.
Thanks to author Mike James, who sought consultation from Axcis Education for some of the information in this article.