What are some fun, engaging activities for children on the autism spectrum?
The following list provides possible activities and tasks for children on the autism spectrum. We provide basic instructions, required materials, and other additional tips and tricks to ensure engagement and positivity for children. While each of these activities may not be completely engaging, we also provide additional resources and blogs for more!
Shredded Paper Art
With just colored paper, a large piece of white paper and glue, let your child tear apart colored paper and make interesting designs. Based on the cognitive function of your child, you can provide specific instructions and tasks for your child, such as to create a bouquet of flowers or a car from the paper rather than random objects.
DIY Ice Cream
Creating ice cream with your child can be a great way to bond over a simple activity that does not require much material or time. Depending on your child’s cognitive ability, you can let them take part in the creation process for this activity and have a great time with them.
1 cup milk
2 tsb. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups ice
Toppings of your choice
1. In a small plastic bag, combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. Push out any air and seal
2. In a large plastic bag, combine ice and salt. Place the small plastic bag inside the larger plastic bag and begin to shake for 7 to 10 minutes until ice cream has hardened
3. Remove from bag and enjoy with toppings
If your child is allergic to any of the topping items, they can be removed and substituted with another item.
This DIY ice cream can be enjoyed even if there are no toppings that are added into it.
If access to vanilla extract is limited, any sugar syrup can be used as a substitute.
Laushey and Heffin extrapolate that individual “buddy” approaches improved social interactions and could signify generalizations towards holistic settings, a strong sign for peer tutoring programs to expand.
An obstacle course can make physical activity fun and exciting for your child regardless of their cognitive function. Additionally, making an obstacle course is very simple and requires zero material. High school volunteers at Unitopia have used obstacle courses as a way to engage one-on-one with students and have found great success with this activity.
General household items
1. Arrange household items in specific locations around the large space
2. Create a general course for your child
3. Have child attempt to go around course
4. Continue to change the course so your child is engaged
An obstacle course can still be created even if you can not get access to household items. Instead, create a course that involves running around the large area that your child can do and still enjoy!
Growing plants is a long-term project that you can enjoy with your child for months. All it takes is some seeds, time, and an excited child. Regardless of your child’s cognitive ability, growing plants is a simple activity that can get children, parents, and instructors engaged. Unitopia volunteers have used this activity as a way to calm energetic children that have trouble sitting in one place at a time to focus on a singular activity.
Space with ample light
Cup or Pot
1. Fill the cup/pot with soil and pour water to make it moist.
2. Place seeds into the cup/pot and move it to an area with ample sunlight.
3. Pour water for the plant regularly.
4. When flowers or fruit grow on the plant, you and your child can pick them together.
Some types of seeds that can be used for this activity are: snap peas, sunflowers, radishes, marigolds, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, potatoes, green beans, lettuce, snapdragon, cucumbers, and zucchini.
It is often best to use seeds that are readily available as well as reusable to create more plants for other students.
Letting your child pick the seeds based on preference can also be a fun activity in itself.
When our volunteers did this activity with special needs children, we used snap peas since they were the most readily available seed.
The size of the cup can be variable depending on what is available.
The number of seeds can also be variable depending on what is available.
Basic Motor Skill Sports
Sports are often the most engaging way for energetic kids to spend time outside, while also helping introverted children on the spectrum step slightly outside of their comfort zone. Depending on your child’s comfortability, these activities can be played alone, with a caretaker, family member, or in large groups of friends and family. Some of the potential activities that can be played include:
- Basketball (just a ball and a local park that is not too crowded)
- Badminton (rackets and birdie in an open area, wherever)
- Soccer (a ball and open field, whether in your backyard or on a legitimate field)
- Dancing (open area, music, and enthusiasm)
There are many more options for sports that can help with motor skill development through normal means. Often, our experience with sports has shown that they help the student with positive reinforcement and are more important to the child compared to weekly therapy sessions with specialists.
This basic activity can clean around the house, as well as help the student gain a better understanding of hygiene and cleanliness at home. It can provide valuable family time while also assisting with activities that are probably long overdue! Unitopia volunteers are able to connect with the child and other family members while partaking in this activity.
1. Fill the bucket with soap and water, along with sponges. This will be the cleaner and “detergent” for your vehicle.
2. Next, use a garden hose to spray the entire car with a “coat of water”.
3. To support your child, split the car into separate sections and allow them to clean the car as much as they feel comfortable. Make sure to not force them to wash and rinse more than their physical capacity, as they may become tired easily.
Make sure to wash your car in the shade; otherwise, the water can evaporate before you start cleaning.
You can use bikes or non-motor vehicles for small-scale projects rather than large vehicles if it may tire your child out. Additionally, if your child remains uncomfortable and unwilling to step outside the house, you could also set up a bath and have him/her wash their toys, whether they are cars or not!
Activities encouraging sense-based experiences and active sensory input can often be stimulating for a child with autism. As a result, homemade instruments created through basic items around the household such as water bottles, beads, etc can be a great way to engage a child. Examples of homemade instruments include:
- Harmonicas made of straws and tape
- Plastic bottles filled with beads or to create shakers and maracas
- Tin can drums along with markers and other utensils as sticks to create a homemade drum set
- Cut out the section of a box that is then strung across to create a box guitar.