Children with autism often can’t or won’t play typical childhood games, and they’re less likely to participate in group activities compared to their neurotypical peers. A study on children with autism and their daily patterns of physical and play activities showed that only 12% of the children studied were physically active. The rest were involved in solitary play, not social play activities. Gender, family income, and household structure, though, were closely associated with the children’s activity scores. So, although only a few of the children were physically active, it’s clear that they could still engage in more physical and social play activities. The key is knowing what types of play activities to initiate so that everyone will have a positive and enjoyable experience. Here are some fun group activity ideas for children with autism.
What to Remember Before Initiating Group Play
When preparing play activities, it is important to remember first and always that neurodivergent children need more space than neurotypical kids. So, approach them gently and respectfully. Find a space that you and the child are both comfortable with. Keep in mind that this could change daily. Always take time to pause and observe the child’s sensory needs first before entering into their space. Some days they may need stimulation and seek hugs and desire compression activities. On other days they may avoid stimulation and prefer more distance.
Enter their world instead of imposing the play toy or activity on them. Let them lead you and indicate to you how they want to play. Observe their signals in facial expressions, gestures, and other forms of body language, and in words. Show them how to have fun with the toy or activity. They are usually visual learners, so demonstrate more and talk less.
Fun Group Activity Ideas
For group play activities, let them know in advance that they will be part of a group activity. Keep the group small. For bigger groups of children, split the big group into smaller ones using a random group generator. Also, make it a point that all group members must be familiar to the child with autism. The play environment should also be familiar to the children’s group. Select activities that are easy to perform. The purpose of group play activity is not to win or lose or be very good at something, but to develop physical and social skills by having fun. Here are three fun group activity ideas that stimulate children’s senses and engage them socially.
Create a Scenery
Form a small group of four children. Using four differently colored papers, each child now tears the papers into pieces. On a floor chart, draw a simple and clear picture of a thing the children are familiar with — a tree, a cloud, or the sun. Ask the children to stick the torn colored papers over the different parts of the image. Use rolled-up pieces of masking tape to stick to the back of each paper which you distribute to them.
Bin of Grains
Prepare a large bin that 4-5 children can use at the same time. Fill the bin with different textured grains like rice, oats, wheat, barley, and corn along with small-sized colored balls. Ask each child to pick a particular colored ball from the bin. For example, Child 1 chooses red, Child 2 chooses yellow, Child 3 chooses blue, Child 4 chooses green, and Child 5 chooses orange. Give each one a basket and ask each child to collect their colored ball from the bin and put them into the basket. Appreciate the final result together by inviting everyone to clap their hands while wiggling their bodies.
Play-doh or Modelling Clay
Ask Child 1 to pick up a small tub of Play-doh in the color of their own choice and roll it into a medium-sized ball. Then, ask them to flatten it using a rolling pin and pass the flattened Play-doh to Child 3. Ask Child 2 to perform the same tasks as Child 1 and pass it to Child 4. Child 3 receives the flattened Play-doh from Child 1 and, using a child-safe knife, cuts the clay into strips. Child 4 receives the flattened clay from Child 2 and, using Play-doh molds, makes shapes (circle, triangle, heart). On a prepared floor or wall chart, Child 5 collects the finished products from Child 3 and 4 and places them over the respective circle, triangle, and heart shapes outlined on the chart paper. The strips are placed on the outer line of the chart paper as borders. Remember to play soft, happy music in the background while they’re doing the activity.
Keep an open mind and playful spirit when coming up with group activities for kids with autism. In all these activities, although you’ve set the tasks and given them the simple rules, be receptive and allow for changes they might initiate. This is play after all. The point of play is to have fun!