Messy Play Activities for Kids with AutismLast week, we covered fun energizing activities and some intellectually stimulating activities you can do with your child to help them stay calmer and happier during quarantine time. This week, we will check out some fun sensory based messy play activities and then try some calming activities that will help you AND your child feel a LOT better if feeling cooped up or overwhelmed by the outside world!
Pediatric clinicians, particularly occupational therapists, often use messy play to help with sensory issues related to picky eating and other tactile (think touch-based type) needs. In other words, it’s a delicate subject for some children with autism, but if your child is the type to dive headfirst into messy things, give these activities a try (outside or in an easy to clean area if possible!)
- Shaving Cream Finger Painting: This can be done outside or in the bathtub. Color cream with water-soluble paint to make it more fun. Use whipping cream if your child is small and has a tendency to put everything in their mouth.
- Gardening Activity: Plant seeds in pots and finger-paint the pots.
- Rock Painting: Go find some rocks outside, clean the dirt off and decorate.
- Mud Play: Send your child outside with play clothes and the hose. Let them go crazy creating mud puddles.
- Bubble Time: Blow bubbles on the porch using store-bought or homemade bubble solutions.
- Homemade Play Dough, Gak, or Putty: Look up some fun recipes that use inexpensive ingredients, and if your child is age-appropriate have them participate in making the dough.
- Driveway Chalk: Unstructured or academic learning via outdoor chalk.
Calming and Self-Regulation Activities for Children with Autism
It’s important to have a way to wind down and cope when things get a little overwhelming. Here are some calming ideas:
- Pediatric Yoga: Yoga can serve as both a physically intense workout and as a calming routine prior to bedtime. Here’s a fun one to try
- Reading Forts and Tents: With bed sheets, furniture, or other tent-building materials, create a fort. Put pillows, blankets, plush toys, and reading books inside to create a quiet safe space. String up Christmas lights or plug in night lights with non-abrasive lighting to create a calming atmosphere for all of your child’s senses.
- Drawing, Coloring, Painting: Let your child have some time to themselves to paint,draw, or participate in other calming art activities that require little direction from you.
- Mindfulness Activity: Find some online tutorials about short (less than 15 minute) mindfulness activities you can use for emotional regulation when things get overwhelming for your child.
- Snuggle Time: Gather up some blankets, towels, or even a pile of freshly, warm laundry on the couch or the bed. Snuggle with your child for deep pressure needs, or let them snuggle into the materials alone if they need the space.
- Screen Time: Sometimes, it is alright for your child to sit down and watch a movie or play a video game. Try to keep screen time down to 1 hour intervals or less.
Hands-on Skills Development Activities for Kids with Autism
Now that you both have all of this time at home, you can explore some of those old hobbies or research some new ones that you and your child can work on together. Keep in mind the age-appropriateness of the activity as well as your child's developmental capabilities. Don't try something outside of their range of abilities that may cause them (OR YOU) stress. This is something that you should be able to share the experience and let them help you complete the task based upon your comfort level. Need ideas? These days, hundreds of free tutorials are available online covering just about any topic:
- Cooking: Very basic recipes that require few ingredients and tools, then advance your way up in difficulty.
- Learning a New Instrument: Online piano, guitar, percussion, etc.
- Karate Lessons: Online karate tutorials in a wide variety of disciplines.
- Coding: Many kids on the spectrum excel at computer programming and it is a great skill to learn early on
- Learning a New Language: Use apps such as DuoLingo to learn a new language together.
- Woodshop Skills: If your child is age appropriate and you have the equipment and experience, teach your child how to make birdhouses or other simple wood-making tasks.
- Home Maintenance: Painting a room, fixing a plumbing issue, etc.
- Sewing: Quilting, cross-stitch, crochet, knitting, weaving, etc.
- Car Maintenance: Changing the oil, the air filter, or a flat tire.
Tips for Coordinating In-home Activities for a Child with Autism
Remember, not all of the activities will work for every child or even prove interesting even and that is not only normal, but okay! Your choices should depend on what supplies you have at home readily available to you during this time, the age and functional abilities of your child, and most of all depend upon your child's priorities and what motivates them. You may find they just aren't in the mood today to try a new activity, but tomorrow be chomping at the bit to try something you tried introducing yesterday.
Let your child help you make choices on what to try and the materials you use. Start with picking one or two new activities to try for the week. Make sure to allow for calming breaks when something proves overstimulating and their little systems start to get overwhelmed. Be proactive and ready to play along with your child so that you can provide them with the full benefits of each activity. But most of all, remember to ENJOY your time together!
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