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Note: These 5 activities can be done every day, and we recommend that parents create a schedule so that each of these activities takes place at the same time very day when possible. Having a schedule helps keep children with autism feel more secure and reduces anxiety. We also recommend posting a picture schedule (or words if your child can read so that they know what to expect each day.
We are living in uncertain times. Across the world, schools and districts are participating in remote learning to slow the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. This remote learning offers an opportunity for all students to have accessible, at home activities that align with what they have been learning in school. Many parents, especially parents of children with autism, have felt some form of anxiety or nervousness around this “new normal.” Children with autism and their parents or guardians must learn new routines, structures, and expectations that may differ from the way they spent their time in schools.
To ease the concerns of many parents and guardians and to ensure children with autism continue to learn and stimulate their mind, we have developed five effective activities for students with autism while they are at home. Most of these activities can be accessed across multiple age and grade levels:
Engaging approximately 14 million kids each month, GoNoodle is a great place for children to participate in movement and mindfulness activities. These activities will not only get an individual’s heart racing, but they are also extremely fun! Their free, online resource, GoNoodle: Good Energy at Home provides ways to keep children and families active during this period of social isolation. Research suggests that for children with autism who have poor motor skills, exercise and movement-based activities can not only improve motor skills, but also lead to increased social communication, attention, behavioral issues, and performance on academic tasks (https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/exercise-gives-children-autism-jump-social-skills/). Thus, utilizing GoNoodle can be an effective way to keep children with autism engaged while at home.
To retain some of the structure that children with autism may have in their schools, you may choose to spend a twenty minute period of time reading with or to your child with autism. This is a great way to keep their interest and support their vocabulary development. It is also a great way to support your child’s comprehension; by asking questions like “What was this book about?” or “What is this a picture of?” you can engage your child’s reading comprehension skills. Doing so maintains the expectation of reading frequently. For great books to read to children with autism, check out our other blog post Recommended Children's Books About Autism.
For children with autism, art therapy can be particularly effective, especially because many are strong visual learners and process information differently from their typically developing peers. Art therapy can promote emotional and mental growth as well as independence and collaboration skills. As an outlet for self-expression, imagination and creativity, art can contribute deeply to improving a child’s fine motor skills, visual and spatial discrepancies, and coping (ActToday.org).
Additionally, art can be a communication tool for children with autism; a way to express themselves and their feelings. So, while at home, it would be a great idea for parents to provide opportunities for their children with autism to engage in drawing or other forms of art as a creative outlet. Having art therapy time as a structured activity with a set time limit is great to incorporate into the at-home routine. For resources on how to support your child’s artistic abilities while at home, check out our blog post entitled, “Strategies for Teaching Art to Children with Autism: Help for Art Challenged Adults.”
Cooking is a wonderful way to work on key skills for many children with autism, like reading, listening, sequencing and math. While many parents may have concerns about cooking with children with autism, it can be very beneficial for children when adults take certain precautions. We’ve listed out some things to be mindful of when cooking with your child with autism on our article 7 Tips for Teaching Your Child with Autism to Cook. Be sure to view that article for helpful tips!
Many researchers cite outdoor play as promoting decreased stress levels, emotional resilience, increased cognitive functioning, increased attention, and a host of other sensory-motor, emotional, and social benefits. Playing outside can also support many developmental advantages such as turn-taking, sensory play, balance, coordination, and an overall appreciation of nature while encouraging language and cooperative skills. So, if you have a backyard available, remember to incorporate a set time in your schedule for your child to play outside in the backyard! For helpful tips to do outdoors, visit our article on 4 Ways to Make Your Backyard More Autism Friendly.
These five tips are sure to keep you in good stead as you make transition to this “new normal.” Additionally, to keep the learning going, ARIS has provided an emergency resource kit to help parents and children with autism adapt to remote learning. This free Language Builder ARIS resource kit provides an extra layer of support for children and families in the wake of the COVID-19 school closures. While this is just a sample, this ARIS emergency resource kit provides a good sampling of the resources from this comprehensive curriculum for students with autism, including lesson plans, picture cards, and data tracking sheets. Check out the downloadable free resources here!
Madeline Burroughs is a Specially Designed Instructional Coach at two high schools in Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, GA. In this role, she works to coach special education teachers in providing systematic, specially designed instruction that effectively targets students’ strengths and needs. Madeline received her Master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from Harvard Graduate School of Education in May 2019, and hopes to continue to serve as an advocate for all students with disabilities throughout her career.