Easy Outdoor Activities For Autistic Kids
Empower Guest Blogger, E-Therapy SLP, Michelle Stewart-Tooson, shares easy outdoor activities that her two boys, one with Autism Spectrum Disorder, enjoy during the heat of the summer.
When my kids were a bit younger, I was always in “Operation wear-them-out” mode. Ironically, doing this put me in more of a “wear-me-out” mode. In my beautiful family, I have two very active boys, and they do not like to sleep. Period. So I had to be really creative with easy outdoor activities that kept them busy and entertained. Because it is so important, I was intent on adding speech and language learning to their play.
Because we are all in the same boat right now with kids at home all day long, I thought I would pass along some of these DIY outdoor activities to help you and the children in your life stay active and engaged in their new at-home schooling environment. Here are some of my favorite and most popular activity ideas for the summer and quarantine times with the kiddos.
According to Barry Prizant and the SCERTS model, “role playing” games teach kids on the Autism Spectrum multiple concepts such as self-regulation, how to “read” faces, understanding non-verbal cues, greetings/social language, repairing communication breakdowns or misunderstandings, and it creates opportunity for a lot of self-generated sentences and language.
One idea that makes a great, engaging model is creating or purchasing a “play kit”, such as a science kit for outdoors where kids can pretend to be outdoor scientists and research cool things such as bugs, plants and dirt, etc. Kits like this are featured on the Play With a Purpose website, and offer a helpful jumping off point to start thinking of where and how you can find these things.
Check out this kit for more ideas: role playing outdoors. You can easily order elements for the “kit” from the Dollar Store, Oriental Trading Company, or Amazon. And to be even more cost conscious, you can make many of the items in your kit with old clothes and toys. The Dollar Store often sells cheap capes and masks that add some excitement like lab coats or hats to our kit.
Another DIY idea is to have a mask making art session with the kids so they can be part of the process. We made masks a lot when my kiddos were young and they absolutely loved them!
Super Duper has several guided books for pretend play. We practiced “The Snowy Day” over 20 times one winter when I was stuck in the house with a two year old and a three year old for long periods of time. This activity was a real game-changer. Sam (my non-verbal kiddo) got to know the story so well that he shocked his 5th grade teachers when he sequenced the events and pointed to the vocabulary from the story with 100% success. Simple pretend play works great as a learning tool.
Another fun idea is to make masks for familiar stories, such as the “Three Little Pigs” and act out the story together. You can keep it simple with repetitive phrases. Lead the story for younger children or work with older kids to write a script together. You can create signs that kiddos can hold up during the readings with phrases such as “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!”
Side idea: I also made hand-held signs (for me) to use throughout the day that said “STOP” and “I’m busy” as visual supports to help my kids understand and follow communication cues. I think I need to make them again as they would be really helpful these days!
When my sons were little, I would set them up with an outdoor bike washing station where they could practice washing their bikes and tricycles. It is a great way to add some structure to outside time and include sensory play with water, soap, sponges, and towels. My mom also gave them a spray bottle with water and told them to “kill the ants”. Now I know some people won’t like the bug killing message, but I have to say, it gave me 20 minutes of peace, and that is so precious these days.
Another fun hot weather activity is to do cartwheels and simply jump and run through the grass sprinklers. This is not only a great way to help kids work out some extra energy, but you can also use the time to work on motor skills, movement vocabulary, and verbal routines, such as a simple “1, 2, 3, Go! Game”. Nowadays there are really neat sprinkler toys for sale to help keep it interesting, but if you want to keep simple, everyday home sprinklers work fabulously.
Sensory bin games
I bought BIG bins from Home Depot and put red beans in one. My kids took turns (with my supervision) sitting in the tub. Key here is to make sure they don’t get the beans in their nose and ears. In full transparency, my son, Sam did manage to eat a couple of beans and we spent some time learning how “not to do that”. While sitting in the bin we would blow bubbles or just look around, and I would model descriptive language to talk about the things around us.
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Be sure to check out our monthly Teletherapy Activities and Games Round-up.
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About the Author
Michelle Stewart-Tooson, M.A. CCC-SLP has been a speech-language pathologist for 22 years and currently provides teletherapy services through E-Therapy. She lives in Huntsville, Alabama and has two boys who are 14 years old and 12 years old. Her oldest son has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is non-verbal. Michelle feels that her experience in navigating the world of therapy and public schools as a parent and an SLP has helped her to be more empathetic to clients and their families. Michelle says that she works to create treatment plans and activities for therapy based on what the client and the parents can handle. She says, “I have found that checking in with the parents and finding out how I can help them with real problems makes the biggest difference!”