Raising a child on the autistic spectrum, requires parents to develop keen mindfulness regarding what types of activities will be most beneficial to the development of their child. Incorporating organized movement into your child's daily routine is a positive way to support his special learning style and to inspire holistic health. Special educator and director of the behavioral branch of the Autism Movement Therapy program in Los Angeles, Joanne Lana, demonstrates that movement therapy can stimulate cognitive remapping in the brains of children with autism, supporting all areas of development.
Children with autism spectrum disorder, whether Asperger's or classic autism, often prefer activities that offer a generous amount of sensory feedback and noticeable cause and effect outcomes, according to Kathy Ralabate Doody, PhD., assistant professor of exceptional education at SUNY Buffalo State. Encourage your child to dance to music with props such as silky scarves or twirling ribbons for increased sensory appeal. Throwing bean bags into containers from a distance enhances tactile exploration and assists with coordination.
Offer activities that provide other tactile experiences such as bowls and cups filled with beans for open-ended play. Set up pouring activities using various substances from the kitchen such as water, flour, rice and oil. Touching, smelling and observing how the different materials move and mix will inspire your child to develop his fine motor skills through focused movement. Keep in mind that children with ASD can also be overly sensitive to some textures, sounds, tastes and smells, so the materials that one child enjoys touching can be very upsetting to another. Find what works best for your child.
Keep it Simple
Ella Rain, author of two books about autism, offers suggestions for simple movement-based activities that are particularly beneficial for children with ASD. Encourage your child to march around the house for gross motor development and whole-body coordination. Set up a trampoline for jumping, as the bouncing motion provides an amplified level of sensory input and can be a calming activity, depending on the child. Motivate your child to practice various balancing activities such as walking on a tape line or balance beam on the floor or stepping from stone to stone outside. Set up an engaging obstacle course in your home using chairs, pillows, ropes and boxes. Obstacle courses can assist with gross motor development as well as following a sequence of movements.
Dr. Avril Brereton offers ideas for several adult-initiated movement games that provide sensory input and encourage gross motor development for children with autism. The Washing Laundry game involves finding a large, heavy blanket and telling your child that you are going to make-believe he is dirty and needs washing in your pretend laundry machine.
Wrap your child up in the blanket - do not cover his face -- and add several soft balls or beanbags as the pretend detergent. Rock him in the blanket back and forth, wiggling it around, telling your child you are washing him. Then say you have to rinse him off and spin around in circles. Many children with ASD enjoy watching things spin and also like to spin, but not all do. Only spin your child if he enjoys it. Play the Shop 'till You Drop'game by giving your child a verbal list of items he needs to shop for from around the house. Include heavy objects on your list that will provide a challenge for lifting and transporting. Have him put the objects into a laundry basket that he can push around the house. This helps him build strength and gross motor coordination.
Participating in an organized sport is another way for your child with ASD to gain exposure to beneficial movement activities. Dr. Anthony Alessi recommends that children with autism take part in one-person and individualized sport activities, as a way to boost confidence and gain body awareness without having to depend on communication with teammates. These types of sports include such as swimming, track and field, horseback riding and martial arts. Some kids with ADS enjoy the sensory input of climbing, and some of the indoor rock-climbing centers have specialized programs for kids with autism and other disabilities. Going for frequent walks and hikes is also a simple activity your child might enjoy. Gymnastics could be another positive outlet for your child, since it focuses on participants as individuals rather than a team. Look into various activities and talk to your child and his pediatrician about your ideas before trying some of them.
- PsychCentral: Autistic Kids Like Games that Stimulate Senses, Movement
- LovetoKnow Autism: Ten Gross Motor Activities for Autistic Children
- Autism Consultation and Training: Developing Gross Motor Skills for a Child with Autism
- Autism Famly Online: Sports can Help Autistic Children
- Autism Movement Therapy