"The secret is keeping busy, and loving what you do."
~ Lionel Hampton
It's that time of the year again! With Christmas and the New Year around the corner, that makes for another yearly event.... the long school holidays! Kids with autism can generally be slightly more difficult to keep busy and entertain when they have unstructured days. Even so, there are lots of fun things to do for your kids during the long holiday!
1. Expanding experiences
Sometimes, it can be harder for kids with autism to learn from their environments and experiences. Taking them out on short trips and exposing them to community places and recreational facilities can help with this. Spend some time to take your child on a thorough trip to even the supermarket, where you can allocate the time to describe things he/she sees, teach a simple supermarket routine, and even create little roles for them to be your 'shopping assistant'! Involve them in the routines and alert them to facts/descriptions to facilitate their growing bank of language as well. Trips like these can also help with their general knowledge of how their environments typically function.
2. Fine motor activities
Knowing your child with autism, Identify the level of fine motor skills and either purchase or make activities accordingly! Fine motor activities such as puzzles, lego, blocks, beadwork, even drawing and colouring, are good to keep them stimulated and meaningfully occupied independently! Even some iPad games that involve skills such as tapping and targeted swiping can be a meaningful learning experience. When children are occupied with fine motor skills they are fairly successful with, they are also working on focus and attention to detail.
If your child with autism enjoys stories, set up a fun reading 'game' to motivate your child to read more. For example, set up a reward system if your child is able to read one short book over a span of a couple of days, or maybe one short story a day. Have "story time" at the end of the day when you come back from work, and reward your child for retelling the story he/she read that day! Identifying a reward is key, think of things your child perceives as a 'treat' or 'privilege' and use things like that as rewards for cooperating with your daily task. Also, be sure to pick books/stories that are within their capabilities and attention span. We want them to be highly successful!
4. Art and crafts
Although this may require slightly more close supervision, there are a wide variety of artsy activities that you can facilitate for your child! For example, if your child can imitate a finished product, you can print out templates and have your child construct an art piece based on an image of the end product. This i a good way to keep your child engaged and on-task for longer periods of time, training good learning behaviour. On top of that, it's fun! Another example (for the more daring parents!) is messy play. If your child with autism enjoys certain textures or sensations this is a good way to take advantage of that to also hone other skills. You can even have your child involved in the set-up of the play activity, to build awareness and attention to details.
5. Social Show 'n' Tell
Because some kids may be lacking social interaction during the holiday season, social activities can be a good way to keep the social butterfly in them going! If there are family members commonly around the house, encourage your child with autism to engage in socially-meaningful activities. If they have a favourite toy or a finished piece of art and craft, take them to 'show off' their item! Teach them to use appropriate language like "Hey look at this!" or "Look what I made!" when they are doing so. Have people respond them in highly positive ways as well so they see the value in 'showing off'. When kids have the opportunity to show off things they've done, it creates an opportunity for them to be rewarded positively with good social attention. This can help develop that social attention as a strong motivator.
6. Food adventures
Talking about autism and picky-eaters, the holiday season may be a good time to experiment with new food. This is because there will be more time in a day and more continuous days in a week to test out your child's preferences and make note of new likes or dislikes. It's always good to start off with your best guess of foods that closely resemble other food that your child already likes. For example, if your child likes noodles, try out pasta, and etc. Taking advantage of the holiday season to expand your child's palate is a great use of time so that with any success, your child will be able to have a wider variety of meal selections when he/she goes back to school. This can also make family meal prep a lot easier!
Hope this was an insightful guide on ways you can spend the year-end holidays!
To all you diligent parents out there with kids with autism, keep at it & have the best time!