It’s one thing to answer the question “How common is autism?” But addressing the question of how to best use activities to engage autistic children requires a lot more. And if you have or work with an autistic child, you know exactly what I’m talking about! and most used approaches to engage
Let’s start with the first question of the prevalence of autism.
How Common Is Autism?
So how common is autism and what is it? Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects approximately 1 in 54 children, and mostly boys get the disorder. Its cause is unknown and there is no cure. However, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Behavior Therapy have been effective in addressing skill deficits in autistic children.
Figuring out how to best use activities to engage autistic children is a bit more challenging, especially given what’s happening worldwide.
In recent months our nation and the world have been rocked by a global pandemic like this generation has never seen before! It’s like we are actually living through something that you only read about in a book or watch in a movie!
But this is no fiction. Real lives are being lost and real lives are being disrupted with each passing day.
This virus is impacting everyone from every walk of life in some form. If it’s not you being directly infected, it’s the looming threat that it can happen as you leave your house each day. Or you may be impacted simply by not being able to find the supplies you need after multiple trips to your local grocery.
For others, the virus has caused people to lose jobs or restricted people’s ability to work. And on top of that, for those with children, the closing of schools introduces a totally different dynamic.
For many parents, they no longer have the option of dropping their kids off at school for several hours as they’re used to. And there are no options for summer camps, after-school programs or sporting activities either. So what’s a parent with an autistic child to do to engage their child?
Well if you’re one of these autism parents, here are the 3 things you absolutely need to do to engage your child.
1. Create a Schedule & Stick to it
If you’re forced to having to spend more time at home with your child, the first thing you need to do is create and stick to a schedule. This is such a no-brainer but nonetheless is so critical. Children thrive off of schedules. And the more consistent you can be with creating and sticking to it, the better it will be for your child.
Now having a schedule doesn’t mean that things have to be exactly the same every day. That’s not the main point of a schedule. Do anticipate that there may need to be a few alterations from day to day, depending on the needs that arise. However, the point of a schedule is to create a predictable framework from which your child can operate.
Your child should know what behavioral expectations you have of them each day. They should have an idea of what the day’s activities will be. If your child cannot articulate or show you what the day’s activities are, that’s an indication that the schedule is either not in place or is not being followed consistently. As a basic framework, a schedule should include things like:
- Waking Time / Nap Time / Sleep Time
- Meal Times
- Hygiene Times
- Academic Times
- Chore Times
- Play Time / Free Time
2. Create a Learning Environment
The second critical component is to create a distinct learning environment. I can’t underscore how important this is. Children often prefer school to home because home is generally not a heavily academic environment. Compared to school, children often associate the home environment with less structured activity. This is why when given the choice, children would often prefer being at home to school.
However, when forces beyond your control require your child to be in the home for extended periods of time, the home will begin to lose its reinforcing qualities. This is why it becomes challenging for them to engage in academic activities like they normally would in the school environment.
For this reason, it’s critical that you create a designated area where they will complete academic activities. If at all possible, that area should only be for school-related work. And how should this environment look? Well, it should mimic as closely as possible their school environment.
Practically what this means is that you may have to move some things around to minimize their access to distractions. So if your child is easily distracted by television, you’ll want to use environments where the television is off or better yet, not even present.
If your child is distracted by toys or other electronics, you’ll need to remove those items from the academic environment. Otherwise, that won’t be an effective learning environment. The main question you’ll need to answer is, “How conducive is the environment to my child’s being able to concentrate and complete academic activities?” And a major part of that is eliminating distractors.
3. Create Changes in the Scenery
Creating changes in the scenery is also a critical component in keeping your child’s sanity! Think about it for a moment. When you’re stuck at home, things can get monotonous very quickly. And, in reality, how many ways can you make the same environment feel different?
Well, some of that just depends on how much space you have and how creative you can be! Below I’ve included a few sensory ideas for changing the scenery both indoors and outdoors.
The main thing to keep in mind is having a variety of scenery changes. I would suggest that you use several of these, and have them on some sort of rotation. One idea could be that each day, they get access to a different sensory object. This way, each item retains its reinforcing qualities.
Sensory Light Projector
Arts & Crafts Supplies Center
So how common is autism? And how do you use activities to engage your autistic child? Hopefully this post has answered those questions and given you some relevant information and resources you can use to make creative changes!
Now if you’re feeling lost, struggling to find a sense of direction, don’t get overwhelmed. I’ve prepared a resource that will provide you with guidance on managing your autistic child. In my eBook Navigating Autism Spectrum Disorder, you’ll grasp and understanding of:
- How Autism impacts families at the different life stages
- How to assess your child’s functioning level
- What skills you need to focus on developing for your child to gain independence and social inclusion
- Funding for therapy services
Know that the help you need is available! Click here to order your copy.
A.D. Daisley holds a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida and has been working in the field as a Behavior Analyst since 2005. He has provided services to children and adults with varying diagnoses such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His scope of experience also includes coordinating therapy to individuals and families in conjunction with other supports including School Teachers, Adult Day Training Facility Staff (ADT’s) and Speech/Occupational therapists. He is the Director and Behavior Analyst at Alternative Outcomes since 2007. A.D is also the Director of Creátre, a non-profit organization that uses the arts for the purpose of skill training, outreach and to display community leadership.