5 Great Ideas for Summer Social Development in ASD
For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, summertime doesn’t need to mean a step backward in terms of social development. In fact, there are a number of ways parents and caregivers can ensure their ASD kids are growing in their communication skills, while still enjoying a fun and relaxing summer. Keep scrolling for five great ideas for summer social development in ASD.
1. Spend Time with Animals
A 2014 study published by the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders suggests that children on the autism spectrum develop better social skills if they have a pet. The study specifically asserts that ASD children with pets are better at answering questions, introducing themselves by name, and asking for additional information.
By spending time with animals, children learn to form emotional bonds. By taking care of animals, they learn to respond to another’s emotions. Having a pet, or spending time with an animal, also gives them something to talk about with friends and family members.
If you have been thinking about adopting a dog, cat, or other critters, the start of summer may be a good time. Contact your local rescue group or animal shelter, either of which can help you find an ideal addition to your family.
Of course, acquiring a new pet isn’t realistic for everybody. If that’s the case, commit to volunteering at your local animal shelter one day a week throughout the summer. Depending on your child’s age, tasks might include walking dogs, feeding and watering cats, or even reading to the animals as they await their forever homes. Trips to zoos and farms are another way to expose children to animals and reap the benefits provided by spending time with them.
2. Join a Theater Group
Theater can be an excellent outlet for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder! Acting tends to be a low-risk activity and is a great way to practice social interaction because it allows kids to express themselves. By acting out real-life scenarios, children with autism will learn to react correctly to various emotions.
Additionally, performing is often rewarded with positive reinforcement, whether that is from friends and family, other actors, or the audience applauding.
Most towns and cities have at least one youth theater group or camp. To find one, check with your school, church, or local community center. If you can’t find a group preparing to perform a play, consider acting or improv lessons, or an acting camp.
3. Schedule a Playdate in Your Home or Backyard
For an ASD child, interacting with peers is stressful, but interacting with peers in an unfamiliar environment can be downright terrifying and overwhelming. Inviting a playmate or two to your own home, where your child is comfortable, can be a great socialization exercise (plus a fun time!).
To ensure your child is actually able to learn and have fun, organize a game or activity with which your child already has fun and does well. This will allow your child to take the lead while playing. If they can be “in charge,” then they are more likely to know when their own, personal limits are near the breaking point.
It may only take a couple of positive, stress-free playdates for your child to begin communicating and interacting better with peers.
4. Join a Social Group for Children with Autism
If you aren’t quite ready to host a playdate at your own home, then consider enrolling your child in a local group specifically designed for children on the autism spectrum. Such groups are available in most major cities, and some smaller cities and towns, though they may require a Google search or asking around.
These groups are carefully and thoughtfully designed specifically for kids with autism. They allow children with similar abilities to come together and play, and are led by professionals who are well versed in ASD and the like.
5. Play Games Together
Summer is for fun, but that doesn’t mean all learning needs to go out the window! Set aside a little bit of time each day to play a couple of games with your child. These games are beneficial, though it’s likely even you will forget that in the midst of the fun and laughter!
A staring contest will challenge your child, and allow them to practice eye contact without the pressure of a formal social situation. If you feel your child isn’t quite ready for a true staring contest, place a sticker of an eye or pair of eyes on your forehead and encourage them to stare there instead. It may be a baby step, but it’s a baby step in the right direction.
Practice idioms through a matching or memory game. Whether you purchase a pre-made idioms game online or create your own using index cards or Post-Its, this game asks your child to pair up common idioms with their meanings.
Finally, practice emotions with a game of Charades! Create cue cards such as sadness, anger, confusion, interest, and excitement. For a little added variety, you can also include cue cards that don’t have anything to do with emotions. Take turns acting out the cue cards and guessing what others are portraying!