10 Activities for Kids with Autism During COVID-19
July 29, 2020
At-Home Skill-Building Projects for Children on the Spectrum
Families touched by autism have a lot on their plate right now. Whether navigating temporary closures, battling other routine disruptions, or worrying about regression, the world is asking a lot of children with special needs… and their parents.
As an essential medical service, Hopebridge centers are open across the nation, but if you do not have access to therapy at the current moment or you need some extra support on top of your autism services, we are here to help.
Our team curated a list of ideas and activities to keep your little ones’ minds and bodies moving during the pandemic. While these projects and games are not designed to take the place of therapy, they incorporate applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies and provide opportunities to keep children engaged. They also offer fun ways for children to build communication, social, functional living and motor skills. The key is to work with your children to create your own structure to let them know what to expect, all while making sure there is time for play.
Whether you need to find new ways to fill the days or want to keep kids busy for an hour while you cook dinner, here are 10 activities to try in or around your home.
10 Activities to Keep Kids Engaged During the Pandemic
Create task boxes. We learned some of our Hopebridge families had great success with task boxes during the temporary closure of our therapy centers. Each box should house a specific activity and the materials needed for it. The “tasks” should be short, structured and easy to understand with support from visuals. You can buy task boxes ready-made or create your own with help from Pinterest. Tasks can range anywhere from sorting colored pom poms to counting with popsicle sticks. The activities can lead to reinforcers or can serve as the reinforcers in and of themselves.
Play freeze dance. Freeze dance is fun to play just about any time of day. Turn on your kids’ favorite songs and advise them to move to the music until the tunes stop. This simple game teaches listening skills and works on following directions, all with a little bit of exercise. Parents are highly encouraged to participate with your own silly moves!
Create your own bowling lane. There seems to be at least one good thing that has come out of this pandemic: easy access to a wealth of creative resources. The Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City, for instance, offers a number of tactile art projects that can be created with items you already own, including step-by-step plans for a DIY bowling alley. Kids will love using stickers, markers and construction paper to transform a box into a bowling lane and upcycle empty plastic bottles into bowling pins. This project will get their artistic juices flowing while also working their fine and gross motor skills.
Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Dealing with “shelter” orders during COVID-19 does not mean you have to stay indoors. There are tons of free scavenger hunt printables online or you can make your own. Whether focusing solely on colors, animals, plants or all of the above, the key is to include pictures that kids can match up as they search. Review the sheet with them before taking a walk around the yard or neighborhood to seek out items nature has to offer. While on the treasure hunt, take the time to talk about what they see, hear, smell and feel.
Host an outdoor tea party. Taking the tea party to the patio or backyard allows you to get a little messy. Set a table with a plastic tea set, grab some “friends” (A.K.A. stuffed animals), and get ready to play. Have some of your kids’ favorite snacks on hand. Fill the tea pot with water, show them how to pour, and then let your children take turns practicing pouring and serving their friends. Expect spills and have fun with it. If your child might not enjoy getting wet, consider substituting the water for shredded paper or pom poms as your “tea and sugar.” Guide them through some conversation with their friends so it can be a communication-building activity, in addition to learning about liquids and volume.
Play animal charades. A twist on the original game, use pictures instead of words on small pieces of paper. Focusing on animals makes it fun and easier for young kids to act and guess the subject. The game helps children practice their non-verbal communication. In addition to making sounds and facial expressions, incorporate movements like crab crawls and poses like down dog to build hand and wrist strength. If your children need a little extra support, make it a two-player game.
Check out new books from the library. Though the library is not currently the hangout it used to be, many public libraries are offering pick-up services. Library card holders can reserve books online to pick up at the entrance. Give your kiddos some options and allow them to choose a couple books that will get them excited. While reading with them, pause from time to time and connect the story to their own lives or other familiar stories. Ask them about the characters’ facial expressions and how they might be feeling. Making these connections can help them better understand emotion and socialization, while also building on reading comprehension.
Open an imaginary “car wash.” Combining imaginative play and sensory play into one, the Busy Toddler website shares a new way to play with toy trucks and cars: Messy Trucks! The idea is simple: have your kids drive their trucks around in some mud for a while and then give them a car wash in soapy water. As a bonus, give them the sprayer to hose them down at the end. You may want to set aside any really special vehicles from this one since there’s a chance they’ll continue to drip water for a couple days.
Go on a virtual excursion. Your regular hangouts may be closed to the public, but the good news is, you can get an insider’s peek at some pretty cool spots around the world. Feed off of your child’s interests and take them on an educational outing through the tablet or computer. Take a trip under the sea with Georgia Aquarium’s webcams featuring beluga whales, sea otters, penguins, jell fish and piranhas. Visit the lions, elephants and giraffes on screen from the Reid Park Zoo in Arizona, or take a tour around Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park with help from Google Earth. Your kids can even travel to space, thanks to Nasa’s video library. The learning shouldn’t stop at watching the videos and live feeds. After “sightseeing,” talk about your adventures, eat food inspired by the location, or play a game that involves some of the environments you covered to tie it all together.
Plan out your future activities. No matter what you do, your children are probably missing their favorite things and it’s good to address them. Work together to make a poster of all the things your kiddo wants to do once it becomes safe. Maybe your kiddos want to go down the slide at the playground, visit the community children’s gym, hang out at the splash pad, or see their friends and grandparents. Write their wishes on the poster and encourage your kids to use crayons and markers, stickers, pictures from magazines and family photos to decorate it. You can also role play to act out some of the things you might do or say once you might get there.
We know art projects, sensory bins and story time are not always enough. If you need more support during this pandemic, please turn to our list of practical COVID-19 resources for autism families, which includes everything from coronavirus-related social stories to reasons to continue wellness checkups. For families who may be in need of a diagnostic evaluation or ABA therapy during this time, fill out our online form so we can get you the help you need as soon as possible.
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