If you are looking for indoor activities for kids on the autism spectrum, then this list of ideas will help you plan your days and reduce your stress!
Kids on the autism spectrum tend to thrive on structure and predictability. Weekends, holidays (and forced lockdowns due to unexpected pandemics) can actually be a time of stress, as routine tends to go out the window.
Most kids love structure
Many kids with autism tend to do reasonably well coping with the demands of a school day as school is typically very structured and with minimal changes to the people or the environment. It’s very important however, that we don’t try to replicate a classroom environment or try to recreate a typical school day for our kids.
It’s just not going to be the same. It can’t be. So, what’s the alternative?
Ask kids what they like to do
Think about the things your child enjoys about their school day. Even better – ask them!
You will probably find the following things on their list:
- Having a desk or table that is just theirs, in a spot that is the same day in, day out
- Knowing exactly what time breaks will occur
- Being able to find the things they need exactly where they expected them to be
- Quietness, or at the very least – predictable, ‘safe’ level of noise
- Clear expectations from authority figures about what behaviour will be tolerated
- Access to games/ toys that can be played with repetitively
- Access to favourite games/ activities
- Opportunity for creativity, messy play or construction play
- Access to friends who can be played with for short amounts of time in predictable settings
- Wearing the same thing every day
- Seeing the same people every day – new people or unexpected visitors (even if familiar) can cause stress
Once you identify the key things about school that work for your child (and they will be different for every child), you can then start to think about how you might be able to incorporate those things into your new routine.
These become your ‘rules’. For example, can you let your child wear the same clothes every day if they want? Are you able to offer them breakfast and lunch at the same time every day?
Indoor activities for kids on the spectrum
Incorporating familiar routines, activities, events etc into your child’s day that align with their rules can help them to feel safe enough to establish a new alternative routine at home and try new activities.
Here’s some ideas for indoor activities and how you can adapt them to fit in with your child’s preferences (‘rules’)
|Activity||How it might work|
Model kits (e.g. planes, cars)
Figurine painting kits
|Construction and repetitive play are often favourites for kids on the spectrum, particularly if there are instructions to follow.
Set them up on their own table or desk.
|2||Art projects – colour by numbers, dot to dots, cross stitch, diamond dots||Projects with clear instructions provide predictability. There is certainty about when the task has been completed. A concrete start/ finish is often important to kids on the spectrum.|
|3||Kid-friendly computer games – Minecraft, Animal Crossing, MarioKart and Mario Party, Animal Jam||Computer games are often a preferred activity but remember to set clear start/ finish times, and make it clear from the outset how much time will be permitted|
|4||Cooking||Great opportunity for messy, sensory play.
Also predictable with a known outcome, precise measurements etc.
|5||Watch YouTube videos that are informative e.g. how are things made in factories, how is food grown, animal facts, what different jobs do people do||Videos can be a preferred format for accessing information.
Kids on the spectrum are often visual learners.
|6||Scavenger hunt around the home (lots of ideas online, especially Pinterest)||Set a timer and see how many things can be found in a given time or ask them to find everything on the list (make sure they can!).
If your child is a collector, as many children on the spectrum are, you can theme your scavenger hunt e.g. “Find all the Pokemon cards. I’ve hidden them around the house”
|7||Listen to Audiobooks||Most favourite books are available as audiobooks. Kids on the spectrum often have special interests and may enjoy hearing their favourite story read to them.|
|8||Make a den or fort out of soft furnishings||Many kids on the spectrum enjoy enclosed dark spaces. Sensory seekers can enjoy the many textures and the opportunity to jump all over unbreakables. Expect cushions will be used as crash mats!|
|9||Do Yoga||Find a Yoga for Kids video on YouTube. There are plenty. Yoga is calming for anxious bodies. A good kids yoga instructor will make sure it’s fun too.|
|10||Make a home video||Many kids on the spectrum (just kids in general really!) are very tech savvy. Modern phones often have an App for creating movies. This can be a great creative outlet for kids who like to view the world through a different lens.|
If you are in a position where your child will be having to stay home for a longer period of time due to holidays, illness or other restrictions, and are required to complete school work, think about how these same rules can apply. Also remember that children learn best through play.
If you have any concerns about how your child may learn best outside of the school environment, an occupational therapist can work closely with your teaching team to ensure they are as supported as possible.
Thanks to Dr. Nicole Grant for her assistance in creating this article. Dr. Grant is a Brisbane OT specialising in children’s Occupational Therapy, including specialised assistance for kids with autism.
You’ve heard of Autism but what about Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)? Find out more about this hidden condition that affects 1 in 14 people here.
This article was featured in Issue 40 of our printed magazine, published June 2020.