Many school children on the autism spectrum have a lot of free time on their hands, now we are under enhanced community quarantine. Therapy schedules may also be disrupted, leaving many parents stumped on how to maximize this extra time.
Sensory-friendly home activities for children on the autism spectrum
Being stuck at home does not mean having more meltdowns and abandoning valuable life skills training. Here are some sustainable ideas of sensory-friendly activities that do not involve big expenses and screen time. Parents must customize activities to cater to their child's interests, skills, and age, as well as individual challenges.
Play with the family pet
Research has found that children on the autism spectrum experience fewer meltdowns in the presence of a pet, and their parents' stress levels are significantly lowered. Pets can help boost their confidence, lower anxiety, and improve communication.
Supervise pet playtime from children who tend to get "gigil" or if your pet does not have the right disposition. Walking or running with the family dog helps burn off excess energy and channels their desire for movement.
Let your child help wash the dishes.
Leverage on the ultimate sensory stimulation derived from water by giving children on the spectrum the responsibility of washing plates for one or all his meals. For younger children, allow them to handle their own plate or transition the family to lighter, unbreakable melamine dinnerware.
Let picky eaters help cook food
Rules like "no iPad if you don't finish your food" or giving the child unique food, are short-term fixes for picky eaters. Help your kids expand their preference from empty calories and repetitive meals to healthier, varied options over time. Allow them to prep vegetables to get familiar with their smell and feel. Teach them to make their own fun bento boxes and experiment with volumes, preparation, and consistencies of "hidden" vegetables. Don't ban food like sweets or chips — just manage how and when they are consumed.
The internet is flooded with hacks and DIY projects, using everyday items. Thirty percent of kids on the spectrum have heightened visuospatial abilities. Find a project that appeals to your child and discover latent talents, without shelling out money for expensive model kits.
Make a family tree
A genealogy project is ideal for kids with heightened attention to detail and the ability to systematize. A genealogy project will involve your child talking to family members on the phone to research names, dates, places, photos relevant to your family history. The project can teach the child about research techniques, about history, about artistic presentation -- all while connecting with family.
Give your child a massage
End a busy day with a soothing massage after their evening bath. Select oils, lotions, or powders with smells that the child prefers. Consult your occupational therapist to demonstrate basic relaxation massages or get some practical tips from mini-tutorials on-line.
Being indoors does not mean we are limiting the learning and life experiences of our children on the spectrum. Be open to letting your child guide you on what they want to learn. Research has long proven that creative, parent-led interventions in a child's natural environment have longer-lasting benefits.
Mona Magno-Veluz serves as the national president of the Autism Society Philippines. She is a mom to three kids with her eldest Carl on the autism spectrum. Her passion propels her to write and talk publicly about disability inclusion and PWD empowerment. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @mightymagulang.