The number of children who are affected by autism spectrum disorder, ASD or autism for short, has grown significantly over the last decade. According to the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, National University Hospital 1 in 150 children born in Singapore have autism.
Children who are affected by autism have significant social and behavioural challenges compared to their unaffected peers. That said, kids are kids, and they still want to have fun along with their classmates. It’s important for parents and educators to plan activities that include children who are on the spectrum.
If you’re spending time with an autistic child, try some of these activities and see if you can get them to engage!
We all know that kids love to get messy, and finger painting is the perfect excuse for it! Autistic children may need some encouragement to get started, but once they do, finger painting is a great way to develop sensory and fine motor skills in children. Younger children also benefit from learning colours through finger painting
For children with more severe autism, give them differently shaped (and washable!) tools to paint with- anything from toy cars and balls to gloves.
Getting active is an easy activity to engage with autistic children. With nothing to stop them, they love running, climbing and jumping. Be sure to set them up in an area where they can be unencumbered but move around safely!
Take this as an opportunity to play games with basic rules like Red Light, Green Light! In this game, when the person at the front says “Green light!”, all the kids charge forwards but as soon as they say “Red light!”, everyone has to stop in their tracks and anyone caught moving is out.
Imitation can help autistic children develop language and communication skills, although it can be hard to get them started with it. To encourage them, start by sitting across from them and copy their gestures in an over-exaggerated manner.
Once they understand what you’re doing, try reversing the roles so that they are mimicking you. Start with simple and silly noises and actions like pretending to be different animals and then move on to simple words and phrases.
Besides struggling with social and conversational skills, one study by McMaster University found that children who are affected by autism often have delayed or absent pretend skills. However, practising these skills at a young age benefits a child’s ability to interact with others.
Of course, there are no restrictions when you’re playing pretend but with autistic children, it is a good idea to have a few suggestions handy for pretend play situations. For the best chance at engaging them, think of scenarios that involve their special interests like dinosaurs, cars, etc.
Play role-playing games
For older kids with autism, role-playing games can be great for helping them with social and behavioural development. These games involve a lot of communication and cooperation, which can be a struggle for those affected by autism. However, the rules in these role-playing games remove a lot of the uncertainty that plagues regular social interaction.
The mother of all role-playing games is Dungeons & Dragons, but it is recommended for kids 12 and older (tell that to the kids in Stranger Things!). Some other good options for younger kids are Talisman, Mice & Mystics and Little Wizards.
Read more: I was neither prepared nor qualified to be an Autism Dad
Do you have experience dealing with children with autism? What kinds of activities did you find to be successful in engaging them?
My Diffability, Parenting Healthy Babies, Love to Know, Mom Junction, Singapore’s 3rd Enabling Masterplan, US National Library of Medicine