Five Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs

Changes in routine, too much free time, and lack of consistent activities can sometimes make summer a challenging time for families with a child on the autism spectrum.

The good news is that for children with ASD, summer activities can serve a dual purpose: along with keeping your child active and engaged in the summer, planned activities can give your child chance to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences that will stimulate attention, help foster self-calming, and make summer enjoyable!

Here are 5 ideas to help you launch a summer of fun.

Take a Train Ride

Trains can be a popular topic with children on the autism spectrum. It could be the spinning of the wheels that speaks to their sensory interests, or the rhythmic and repetitive noise and motion. And young kids are often exposed to trains in popular books and television programs. But whatever the reason, riding a real train could be a fun summer activity.

It could be fun to find a train that goes up a mountain, or find a scenic train ride to see the countryside. But just as fun may be a ride on the local train to the city and back. In Utah, you could try riding the light rail system (Trax) or jump on the faster Frontrunner commuter train and watch as the towns fly by. There are also a few trains in amusements parks (like Lagoon) or the Heber Valley Railroad that offers breathtaking view of Mt. Timpanogos and the dramatic, glacier-carved landscape of Provo Canyon.

Try Some Good Old Fashioned Outdoor Play

Outdoor play is stimulating for children of all abilities, specifically those who need a little extra help developing gross motor skills. Try some of the traditional childhood games to promote whole body movement and balance. Great games to try are Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Hopscotch. Or, get active with a great game of freeze tag or hide and seek. Even a game of follow the leader can be a fun activity and can help kids learn new movements. Plus, you might get nostalgic for your own sunny childhood.

Tent It Up

A simple backyard tent is a great way to create a fantasyland with your little one without ever leaving home! You can rig it up with string between trees and draped sheets, or set up a small camping tent as a sensory cave. Tent play can keep our child occupied for hours, plus tents can be comforting as a retreat when a child with ASD just needs a little quiet time. Add calming light with a flashlight or glow stick and bring out lots of soft pillows and blankets or sleeping bags to make it comfortable and calming.

Make an Obstacle Course

It’s fun to make up an obstacle course with objects or items you have already at home. Try using tape to make a balancing line, or inexpensive pool noodles to make barriers to jump over or a path to follow. Hula hoops make great places jump into and jump ropes make good starting lines or edge markers. Try bean bag toss or stacking big blocks. 

You could have several stops along the path with instructions about walking like animals. For example, have your child hop like a frog, slither like a snake, prance like a unicorn, walk like a crab, or jump like a kangaroo.

Catch Some Bubbles

Chasing bubbles is a great way for kids to practice their gross motor skills. You can give different directions to have your child catch a bubble on their head, break one in their hand, or jump on them as they settle to the ground. For kids with mobility issues use a pool noodle to swat the bubbles or a rolled up newspaper to act like a bubble bat.

Don’t forget, this is your summer too!

Even though you spend a lot of time and energy keeping your child occupied and happy during the summer, always keep in mind that summer is for everyone! Try to find activities that are interesting to you too and find things that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Look for an outdoor festival, an easy hike, or a beautiful sculpture garden. Sometimes even your local pool can do the trick. But whatever you plan, remember to create a few great summer memories of your own along the way.


Written by Sara Madsen, BCBA

Sara Madsen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA at Kids Who Count. She oversees and supervises all of the ABA treatments for the children we serve on the autism spectrum. She is currently in the PhD program in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She loves the outdoors—fishing and camping—and is a Utah Jazz fan.






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