Summer vacation is often associated with fun, excitement, adventure, exploring, and time off from school. For children with autism, finding the right activities can be a bit more challenging but incredibly rewarding. Here are some summer activity ideas that cater to their unique needs, ensuring a season filled with fun, growth, and memorable experiences.

A family wearing helmets and various summer gear poses and smiles with bikes. A mother and son wearing helmets ride a white horse together. A girl paints a picture in an art classroom. A boy plays with a tool to display different sensory outputs, such as lights, sound, or color.n
A photo grid displaying many different summer activities that children with autism may enjoy, such as equine therapy, art therapy, sensory friendly activities, or time outdoors.

Try experiencing “sensory-friendly outings”

It is common for children with autism to experience sensory overload in environments that are too noisy or overstimulating, which can cause anxiety or frustration. Sensory-friendly outings include activities and environments that are not too noisy or crowded, allowing for a more enjoyable experience for your child.

  • Explore nature with walks and hiking trails: Nature provides a calming environment filled with diverse sensory experiences. Choose trails that are less crowded and offer various textures, sights, and sounds. Look for trails with clear paths and benches for breaks.
  • Enjoy a Beach Day: The beach can be a great sensory playground. The sand, water, and open space offer multiple sensory inputs. Bring noise-canceling headphones if your child is sensitive to sounds, and choose less crowded times to visit. If you are going to be near water, be sure to practice caution and water safety (read our water safety blog, here).
  • Search your local park district and community center for resources: Today, many places such as museums, or movie theaters, typically offer special sensory friendly experiences for children with autism. 

Enroll in therapeutic activities

There are a wide variety of therapeutic activities you can choose from to enjoy with your child. These creative outlets typically include pairing your child’s chosen activity with a teacher or guide who can help your child enjoy and learn from their experiences. 

  • Equine Therapy:

Horseback riding, or equine therapy, can be incredibly beneficial to children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. It helps with balance, coordination, and emotional bonding with the animals. Many equine therapy centers offer specialized programs for children with autism with one- on- one instruction.

  • Music Therapy:

Music therapy sessions can help children with autism improve communication skills, reduce anxiety, and increase social interaction. Look for programs that offer personalized music therapy sessions during the summer.

  • Swimming Lessons: 

Swimming is an excellent activity for children with autism as it promotes physical fitness, coordination, and can have a calming effect. Look for swimming classes specifically designed for children with special needs, which often have smaller class sizes and more individualized attention. 

  • Art Therapy: 

Art therapy promotes enhanced communication through creative expression, improved imagination and abstract thinking skills, and it allows for sensory integration through different art mediums (clay sculpting, finger painting, beading, etc.).  Art therapy can look different for each child and be individualized to their interests and needs.

Discover social skills groups

These groups usually include interaction with other groups of children, allowing your child to engage and make meaningful connections with their peers.

  • Summer Camps:

Specialized summer camps for children with autism provide structured routines, social interaction, and a variety of activities designed to be both fun and therapeutic. These camps often have trained staff and volunteers who understand the needs of children with autism. Today, camps are offered at several levels to accommodate the needs and time constraints of families, with options like full-day camps, half day camps, and more to best fit your child’s needs. Check out your local park district, community center, or YMCA chapter for more information.

  • Playdates and Group Activities:

Organize playdates with other children who have similar interests or participate in group activities such as storytelling sessions, puppet shows, or group games. These interactions can help improve social skills in a comfortable and supportive environment.  These activities are often available through a local library or parent support group. 

Technology-assisted learning

Encourage your child to learn and develop their social skills, or enjoy a fun activity together using technology-assisted learning!

  • Educational Apps and Games:

There are many apps designed for children with autism that focus on communication, social skills, and academics. Using tablets or computers for these activities can provide both educational and entertainment value in a structured manner.  Check out sites and resources like ABC Mouse, Touch and Learn - Emotions, Endless Alphabet, and Proloquo2Go. 

  • Virtual Reality (VR) Experiences:

VR can offer immersive experiences that are both educational and fun. For example, virtual zoo tours, underwater explorations, or space adventures can be exciting and enriching without overwhelming sensory inputs. 

Make time to relax and unwind

Don't forget that in a summer full of fun and activities, kids need down time too. This allows them time to decompress and avoid sensory overload. 

  • Sensory Rooms:

Create a sensory room at home with items like weighted blankets, sensory swings, fidget toys, and soft lighting. This space can be a safe haven for your child to unwind and relax.

  • Yoga and Mindfulness:

Simple yoga exercises and mindfulness activities can help children with autism improve their concentration, reduce anxiety, and enhance their overall well-being. Look for child-friendly yoga videos or classes designed for children with special needs.  You can also introduce guided meditations or relaxation breaks into your morning and evening routines. 

Our final quick tips for parents

A boy with blonde curls slides down a bright yellow slide at a playground, with his arms outstretched. He is wearing a plaid short sleeved shirt, purple shorts, and bright blue shoes.
A boy, smiling, slides down a bright yellow slide with his arms outstretched.
  • Plan Ahead: Prepare your child for activities by explaining what to expect. Visual schedules and social stories can be very helpful.

  • Stay Flexible: Be ready to adapt activities based on your child's comfort and interests.

  • Prioritize Safety: Ensure that any activity is safe and consider any sensory sensitivities your child may have.
  • Encourage Independence: Allow your child to explore and try new things at their own pace to build confidence and independence.

By incorporating these activities into your summer plans, you can create a fulfilling and enjoyable season for your child with autism. Remember, the goal is to have fun while supporting their growth and well-being. 

At Powerback Pediatrics we recognize that summer can come with uncertainty and the lack of a structured school day can cause additional stress or frustration for you and your child.  We are happy to discuss schedule changes, increasing treatment intensity, or incorporating some of the above mentioned activities into your therapy when appropriate. 

Have a safe, fun, and happy summer!

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