The winter months seem so long. With all the snow and cold weather, it is extremely hard to know how to keep my child with autism occupied and having fun. Any suggestions?
During the winter months, this is a very common question asked by many parents of children with autism. Although it can be difficult to keep your child engaged in leisure/play activities any time of year, it is especially challenging when the weather is cold and the common outdoor activities, such as playgrounds and walks, are not always possibilities. If you are able to think about adapting the options that are available to all children, you might end up pleasantly surprised that there are enjoyable activities right at your fingertips.
First, think outdoors! Some children do not mind the cold so bundle them up and enjoy all the snow. Do not be surprised or disappointed that your child might not be interested in the traditional outdoor activities such as building a snowman, sledding or making snow angels. For example, building a snowman takes time and your child might not have the attention span or patience to complete that task; sledding can feel very cold or scary to some children; making snow angels might have little meaning to your child.
However, there are other great things that you can do outside that might be perceived as a lot of fun by your child. For example, take traditional warm weather or indoor activities and play them outside. Playing tag or chase in the snow can be much fun (and great exercise) for all involved. Also, you can take certain indoor toys (such as small cars or plastic building blocks) and allow your child to use them outside in the snow. Your child might associate being outside as more fun when preferred toys are permitted to leave the house.
Now, think indoors! It would be important to continue to rely on your everyday options that are appealing to your child, whether it be toy cars, dolls, music, videos, computers, books, coloring or any of the other play/leisure options that your child enjoys. To add to the routine, however, add in some novel activities as well. For example, fill a plastic tub with fresh snow from outside and bring the snow into your house. You and your child can do many fun and entertaining things with this snow. You can bury small items (e.g., coins, small toys) and have your child hunt for these items. You can create small piles of snow balls together. You can use the snow as a landscape for pushing trains through as a novel platform for this play activity.
Although you might have great amounts of time to occupy with your child, it can feel less overwhelming when you feel that you have some activities to structure the time. Keeping that in mind, using a schedule of some sort can help additionally structure the time. For example, using a picture schedule for younger children and non-readers and using a written list for readers will help create structure to the day. Even if you do not typically use a schedule anymore, it might make a difference on a long weekend day or a snow day. And, doesn’t it feel good to check off activities that are completed and your child has enjoyed?! So, remember, stay warm and have some fun; after all, spring will be here soon!
Sandra Pierce-Jordan, PhD, BCBA-D
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