Summer Activities for Children with Autism
Outdoor and Indoor Activities to Support Your Child’s Development
Summer gives families a new opportunity to make memories and to give kids new experiences. Kids are getting out of school and parents may have to adjust their daily routines, whether they work outside the home or stay at home with their kids.
Children with autism may have trouble with the changes that come with the season. One common challenge for children with ASD is having difficulty with changes in routines. This might create some hurdles for them and their parents when summertime arrives. Kids with autism may struggle with the transition from a structured daily routine in which they know what to expect and what is expected of them.
It’s important to understand how a child with autism experiences the transition to summer. Parents can also help their children during the summer months by giving their children opportunities to expand their skills, improve their behaviors, and develop important life skills.
Summer with Autism
Let’s briefly consider some of the challenges (and opportunities) that a child with autism may experience during the summer months as it relates to common traits of ASD.
➢ Kids with autism may experience some relief from the break from school, because they don’t have to interact with others as much. Since social skills may be a challenge for them, the chance to stay home more often instead of going to school every day can be a good thing. Even kids who attend some sort of summer childcare may experience less stress when it comes to social interactions since the pace is often slower, and it’s easier for them to escape social interactions that make them feel uncomfortable.
➢ For kids who have made friends in schools or who have started opening up to peers, summer often means that they will have fewer opportunities to maintain those friendships. This can make it difficult for the child to develop or maintain friendships.
➢ Sometimes kids with ASD who have restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) will increase these behaviors because of the lack of structure within their day. Some research shows that lack of activity can increase RRBs. On the other hand, sometimes RRBs will decrease during the summer due to less stress the child experiences.
➢ Kids with autism can have more time to focus on their special interests during the summer when they are out of school and have more free time on their hands. ➢ Depending on your child’s sensory issues, summer can make their sensory issues problematic for them.
Let’s now jump in and discuss some summer activities recommended for children with autism, especially activities that can be done outside. We’ll explore activities that will help support your child’s development and overall well-being.
Going for a Walk
Going for a walk is an excellent activity for all kids, including for children with autism. Walking gives kids exercise and walking with other people, such as parents and siblings, can provide an opportunity for improving social skills, as well.
If you take a walk or go on a hike in a community location, you can help your child develop safety skills and support their abilities related to appropriate interactions with people they encounter in the community.
For instance, moving over on the trail to allow for an oncoming walker or bike rider is something that you can teach your child to do. You can also work on so many other skills during a hike, such as identifying things in the natural environment, having conversations, knowing what to do if you encounter someone else’s dog, and giving your child the opportunity to talk about their special interests, and much more.
If you are hanging out with your child in your backyard, you can play a game of I-Spy. You can play this game anywhere really. This game involves one person giving a clue about an object they see around them and then having the other person guess what that object is, such as by saying “I-Spy something blue.”
This helps to support receptive language skills by supporting a child’s ability to listen to the clues being told to them and then trying to use complex thinking skills to figure out the targeted object. This game also helps support a child’s communication skills by allowing them opportunities to give clues to another person.
The game encourages patience, as well, specifically because the players have to be okay with getting the answer wrong sometimes. They also have to wait their turn to guess the object if there is more than just them guessing in the game.
Having a Playdate
Social skills are a broad category of skills important for everyday life. Social skills can be practiced in a formal or informal way. Parents can encourage their child with autism to participate in playdates or get-togethers with peers, neighbors, cousins, or local groups to give them opportunities to practice their social skills.
It’s important, though, not to push a child too much into making friends and fitting in. Allow them to be themselves, but, if you think it’s right for your child, it’s okay to encourage opportunities for social interactions at times, in ways that support your child’s well-being and potential.
Of course, playdates can be an outdoor or indoor activity, but planning an outdoor playdate can provide the added benefits of movement and exercise, getting fresh air and sunshine, and giving your child a new experience outside their typical routine being indoors.
Go to the Park
Going to the park is an excellent outdoor summer activity for children with autism. Being at the park gives a child an opportunity to practice interacting with others, managing unexpected situations, and engaging in gross motor activities which some kids with ASD struggle with.
Being at the park also creates a somewhat more structured environment where a child with ASD can hang out with other kids as opposed to an open backyard which may not have many physical items which guide the activities for them to participate in when they are hanging out with kids.
Having more structured activities can help some kids with autism when they are hanging out with other children because there is more clarity on what the child should do and it’s easier for the child to know what to expect during the social interaction. Although just being at a park is not as structured as other activities, it does allow the child to have something more concrete to do while they are hanging out with other kids.
Swimming and Water Play
Swimming is an excellent activity for children with autism to do during the summer. If a child has the ability to learn to swim, it is definitely recommended that they learn this skill. Summer, of course, makes sense as a great time to practice swimming. Whether you enroll your child in swimming lessons, or you play in the water and teach your child to swim yourself, your child will greatly benefit from learning to swim.
On the other hand, even if your child doesn’t know how to swim or if they are not likely to learn to swim, playing in the water in safe ways can still be enjoyable and can still offer many benefits for your child’s physical development through the gross motor and fine motor skills they use in the activity of water play.
For those really hot days, you might consider encouraging your child to stay inside especially during the warmest hours of the day. Let’s explore a few ideas for fun summer activities that your child can do during the summer.
Artistic Creative Activities (Crafts, Music, and Art)
Craft projects are fun any time of year. They offer many benefits for children with autism including the development of fine motor skills, supporting your child’s ability to follow directions (either written instructions or verbal instructions from you), and provide an opportunity for a child to be creative as well as to express themselves in a way that typically doesn’t require words.
Many children with autism struggle with expressing their thoughts and feelings with words. Sometimes they find it easier to write down their thoughts and feelings (if they have writing abilities that allow them to do so). Other times, it’s still difficult for a child with autism to label and understand their own emotions.
Difficulty with understanding and expressing one’s own emotions is called alexithymia. Some research suggests that up to 50% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder experience alexithymia (Poquérusse, et. al., 2018).
Artistic creative activities, like crafts, music, and art, have been found to support emotional regulation and to have a positive impact on a person’s mood (Fancourt, et. al., 2019). Crafts and other creative activities may support a child’s ability to express themselves as well as their ability to regulate their emotions.
Family Movie Day
Having a family movie day is a good indoor activity which can involve a variety of activities that can help children with autism. From planning and making a snack to being considerate of others (particularly when someone chooses a movie the child doesn’t particularly care for) to being polite and respectful during the movie, watching a movie together as a family provides many learning opportunities to encourage social, communication, and other relationship skills for children with ASD.
Playing a Board Game
Playing a board game together with your child can be an excellent indoor activity for those hot summer days. Your child can improve their turn-taking abilities, their waiting skills, their language skills, and much more.
Depending on the game played, your child can improve their cognitive skills as well. This is accomplished while practicing problem solving during the game or taking part in strategy or planning tasks.
Summer Activities for Kids with Autism
There are so many summer activities that can benefit children with ASD. No matter your child’s current abilities, needs, or preferences, you can find activities that will help support your child’s development and overall well-being while also being enjoyable for your child.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Fancourt, D., Garnett, C., Spiro, N., West, R., & Müllensiefen, D. (2019). How do artistic creative activities regulate our emotions? Validation of the Emotion Regulation Strategies for Artistic Creative Activities Scale (ERS-ACA). PloS one, 14(2), e0211362. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.021136
Poquérusse, J., Pastore, L., Dellantonio, S., & Esposito, G. (2018). Alexithymia and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Complex Relationship. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1196. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01196