For as hard as the pandemic has been on everyone around the world these past few years, it’s been especially tough on children on the autism spectrum.
But one way to cope with any extra stress or anxiety is to have the kids engage in play time to help develop motor skills, social skills and language development, said Dr. Jen Harstein, a children’s developmental psychologist who works with kids with autism daily.
In regards to play time, Harstein offered five suggestions to enhance development:
1. Make a glitter bottle.
Take a clear bottle and fill it with water, glitter and food coloring, Harstein said. You can add additional things like beads or marbles or other small items. Be sure to glue the top shut so it won’t make a mess. This is a great and simple way to engage your child, increase focus and help them to identify different items that they see.
2. Use fidget toys.
Harstein said when children are stressed and anxious, fidget toys have found their way to being an excellent way to channel those emotions.
These can be fidget spinners, in which the child can watch the spinning and really focus on it to help get more grounded -- or maybe a fidget cube, that has all different kinds of small activities to play with. Both can help with some fine motor development, too.
To view an example, click or tap here.
3. Create obstacle courses.
Nothing is better for navigating stress and anxiety than movement, Harstein said. Far too often, people forget to get up and get their stress out.
Create a fun obstacle course, either inside or outside, that your child can do. Don’t make it so hard that it creates frustration. Make it fun and entertaining!
The additional benefit is that it helps with gross motor skills, focus and interactions, too.
4. Play interactive games.
Engage in activities that require back and forth, Harstein said. It’s hard for anybody to stay anxious or overwhelmed when also focusing on someone else. For those with ASD, focusing on others can be a challenge. Working to play interactively, with board games, for example, helps build social awareness and connection.
5. Create sensory opportunities.
Many young people with ASD can experience sensory overload, Harstein said. It’s important to take some time to create opportunities that will encourage interaction, challenge them to engage in sensory activities and have fun.
Take a bowl and fill it with different kinds of toys. Have a child reach in, maybe with their eyes closed, and see if they can pick a certain toy out from the others. If having their eyes closed is too hard, just have them reach in and see what they can find. This can build a sense of mastery, connection and emotion regulation for many.