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Therapeutic Activities at Home

Therapeutic Activities at Home

Therapeutic Activities at Home

For parents of children with autism, the summer break can bring a mix of emotions. While the change in routine and loss of school-based structure can be daunting, summer also offers a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child and actively support their development through therapeutic play at home.

You don't need to be an expert or have specialized equipment to engage your child in meaningful activities that target key skill areas. With a little creativity and some everyday materials, you can transform your home into a rich environment for sensory exploration, motor skill practice, communication development, and social engagement.

In this article, we'll share a variety of practical, fun activity ideas for different needs and situations that may arise throughout the summer days. From outdoor water play to indoor sensory bins, hands-on experiments to imaginative role-play, these activities are designed to help your child generalize learned skills, regulate their sensory experiences, and build new abilities in a natural setting.

Most importantly, these activities provide valuable opportunities for you to connect with your child through shared play and enjoyment. Your involvement and alignment with your child's unique interests and needs are the most powerful ingredients for promoting their ongoing growth.

Create Your Summer Activity Idea List

Crafting a summer activity schedule for your child may feel overwhelming, but remember that it doesn't need to be perfect or set in stone. The goal is to provide a flexible framework that offers a sense of structure while leaving room for spontaneity and your child's changing interests.

Start by brainstorming a list of potential activities across various categories, such as outdoor adventures, indoor crafts, sensory play, and skill-building games. Having a diverse set of ideas to draw from will make it easier to plan each day or week. Consider creating a visual schedule using pictures or symbols to represent the day's activities, which can help your child anticipate what's coming and transition more smoothly. I made mine in a tool called Trello because that’s what worked really well for me. Do what works for you!

As you introduce new activities, consider ways to stack wins and build upon familiar favorites to gradually expand your child's comfort zone. Break down complex tasks into smaller steps, provide visual supports, and offer choices to promote a sense of control and motivation. Remember, the most important thing is to follow your child's lead and trust your instincts in creating a summer rhythm that works for your family.

Marty's Swipeable Summer Home Activity Idea List

To support you in this journey, I've compiled a "swipeable" list of activities you can refer to throughout the summer for inspiration. This list is designed to be a starting point, a spark for your own creativity in adapting these ideas to best fit your child's unique interests, sensory needs, and developmental goals.

The activities are organized into categories based on their setting or key features, but many involve overlapping skill areas and can be easily tailored to your family's preferences. Remember, the most meaningful summer moments often emerge from a place of flexibility and shared fun. While this list can serve as a helpful guide, trust your instincts and follow your child's lead as you navigate the possibilities together. You are the expert on your child, and your loving presence is the most powerful ingredient in any activity you choose.

Outdoors

  • Backyard Games & Toys: Engage in classic outdoor fun with sandbox play, trampolines, and games that get the whole family moving and laughing together. 🛝
  • Backyard Obstacle Courses & Playgrounds: Set up exciting challenges in your own backyard using playground equipment, DIY obstacles, or even natural elements like hills and trees.
  • Water Play: Beat the heat with refreshing activities like running through sprinklers 💦, splashing in a pool or splash pad, playing water table games, or having a good old-fashioned water balloon fight!
  • Chalk Art & Games: Draw pictures, trace shadows, or play sidewalk chalk games like hopscotch, tic-tac-toe, or mirror drawing.
  • Nature Walks & Scavenger Hunts: Explore the great outdoors through walks in your neighborhood or local parks.  Make it extra engaging with themed scavenger hunts, collecting natural treasures 🪨, or playing "I Spy."

Hands-On (Together) Play

  • Work on Puzzles: 🧩 Encourage problem-solving and fine motor skills with age-appropriate puzzles. Work on them together, celebrating each piece that fits into place.
  • Building & STEM Toys: Foster creativity and critical thinking with building sets, blocks, and cause-and-effect toys that allow your child to design, construct, and experiment. We love things like Hotwheel tracks, Marble Run, Magna Tiles, and Duplo or Lego sets depending on age.
  • Sensory Play: Offer tactile stimulation with play dough, kinetic sand, and modeling clay. These materials provide calming input and opportunities for imaginative play.
  • Simple Science & Sensory Explorations: Set up easy science experiments or sensory bins that engage your child's curiosity and encourage hands-on learning. Build your own box or even pick one up from Amazon. A favorite of ours is making your own slime (kits make it super easy!) or oobleck with cornstarch and water.
  • Build a Fort: Build a fort using blankets or sheets (or get a helpful kit like the Tote-a-fort), decorate the space with pillows and soft toys then camp out and read stories, have picnics, or engage in quiet activities inside the fort. ⛺️

Quiet(er) Corners

  • Sensory Bottles & Calm Down Jars: Create soothing sensory bottles or calm down jars filled with glitter, beads, or colorful liquids. These offer visual stimulation and can help with emotional regulation.
  • Reading & Audiobooks: 📕 Cultivate a love for stories by reading together, listening to audiobooks, or enjoying podcasts during downtime. Create a cozy reading nook to make this time extra special.
  • Art Corner: Designate a space for coloring, drawing, and sticker mosaic activities. 🎨 Provide a variety of materials and encourage open-ended artistic expression.
  • Create Music with Garage Band: Hand them their iPad and headphones with Garage Band and Guided Access turned on so they can enjoy making their own music. 🎼🎧

High Energy Bursts

  • Dance Parties & Movement Breaks: Crank up the music and have dance parties to get the wiggles out. 💃🕺 Incorporate props like ribbons or scarves, or play freeze dance for added fun.
  • Imitation Games: Engage in playful imitation games like "Mirror Me" or “Simon Says,” animal walks & sounds, or facial emotion charades. These activities promote body awareness, social skills, and creative expression.
  • Soft Equipment Play: Bring the bounce house experience indoors with small trampolines, crash pads, or cushions. 🛋️ Couch cushions work in a pinch and if you want to splurge, the Nugget Couch is lots of fun inside.
  • Balloon Games: 🎈Get moving with simple balloon games like balloon tennis, volleyball, or just trying to keep the balloon from touching the ground. These activities encourage hand-eye coordination and teamwork.

Social Skill Builders

  • Turn-Taking Games: Play simple games that emphasize turn-taking, such as rolling a ball back and forth, playing 🚦 "Red Light, Green Light," or taking turns drawing on a shared piece of paper.
  • Pretend Play: Encourage socio-dramatic play with play kitchens, doctor sets, or school supplies. Join in the imaginative play, modeling social roles and conversational skills. 🧑‍🚒👷‍♀️👩‍🚀
  • Cooperative Building: Work together on building challenges using blocks, Legos, or other construction materials. This fosters communication, compromise, and a sense of shared accomplishment.
  • Board Games: Play simple board games that practice turn-taking, following rules, and being a gracious winner or loser. Celebrate effort over outcome and enjoy quality time together. 🎲

Everyday Activities Can Be Therapeutic Too!

Involving your child in daily household tasks not only helps them feel included but also provides valuable opportunities for skill-building. Encouraging your child to help you with everyday activities can enhance their sense of responsibility and independence. Here are a few ideas:

  • Household Tasks: Find ways to involve your child in naturally occurring household chores like sorting laundry, setting the table, putting away and sorting the silverware in the drawer, or putting away groceries. 🧺
  • Cooking & Baking: Invite your child to help with measuring, mixing, and kneading in the kitchen. Cooking activities target sequencing and direction following while engaging multiple senses. Expect and be okay with a mess. 🙂
  • Exercise Videos: You might already be following an exercise video program at home. Don’t hesitate to involve your child and give them a chance to follow the movements and exercises along with you.
  • Gardening: 🌱 Planting seeds, watering plants, pulling weeds, or helping to rake leaves can improve fine and gross motor skills while fostering a sense of accomplishment.
  • Shopping & Errands: Turn shopping trips and errands into opportunities to practice skills like making choices and social interactions within the community. 

Integrating everyday activities into your summer routine from time-to-time can help create a supportive environment that promotes holistic growth and development. And remember, while every moment has the potential to be a fun learning experience, there’s no shame if you just don’t have the energy to pull it off. It’s ok to just get the thing done that you need done too.

Now Go Have Some Fun!

We've explored a wide range of home activities that offer therapeutic value for children with autism. From sensory play and outdoor adventures to everyday tasks and social skill builders, each activity can provide unique opportunities for growth and development. By intentionally incorporating these activities into your summer routine, you create a nurturing environment that supports your child's individual needs.

As you plan your summer activities, remember to stay flexible, work with your child's sensory preferences and interests, trust your instincts, and follow your child's lead.

Remember, the most meaningful and therapeutic activities are those that bring joy and connection to your family. Embrace the unique challenges and opportunities this summer presents, and don't hesitate to think outside the box. Your love, support, and creative approach to skill-building are the most powerful tools in your therapeutic toolkit.

We'd love to hear from you! Share your favorite summer activities or your experiences trying out the ideas from this list. Your insights and stories are a valuable part of the Aspire community, and we appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow together. Wishing you a summer filled with laughter, growth, and cherished memories!

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