Let’s face it: Not all your kid’s friends are also going to have Autism. Setting up a playdate with a neurotypical kid doesn’t have to be difficult though. Here are several activities for kids with Autism that other kids will love too:
Arts & Crafts
Most kids enjoy the process of creating something, even if they don’t always enjoy the creation when it’s finished.
Sensory arts and crafts make the act of creating that much more enjoyable. Each part is filled with soothing sounds, bright colors, cool textures, pleasant smells and – in some cases – yummy tastes.
For children with Autism, sensory arts and crafts can kill two birds with one stone: Arts give your child the opportunity to create something they love, which can build self-confidence. The sensory experiences can keep them engaged and stimulate their minds.
Here are a few ideas for sensory arts and crafts for your child and their friend:
If your child or their playdate is allergic to dogs, you’re excused from this suggestion. (We’re deeply sorry for your loss. Please accept our condolences in the way of additional suggestions for playdate activities below.)
For everyone else: Here’s an excuse to play with a puppy. As if you needed one, right?
Playing with animals actually has great benefits for people with Autism. Dogs are loving and nonjudgmental creatures. They won’t get impatient or angry with your child. They just want to play and cuddle! These benefits extend to other children as well.
And you know what else? Playing with a puppy is just good, wholesome fun. Generally, speaking.
If you’re not ready to commit to owning a dog, you can take a field trip to your local animal shelter or even think about fostering a puppy for a while.
Puzzles are actually incredibly engaging for children with Autism. Large piece puzzles are usually best for young children or children further along the spectrum. Puzzles are also fun for other children.
You can set up two different puzzles, one for each child, for some relaxing quiet time. Take this opportunity to drink a cup of coffee and read a book (or, let’s be real, scroll on your phone).
Or, you’re looking for a more collaborative activity, you can have both kids do the puzzle together. A second puzzle might be a good idea though, in case they finish the first kind of quickly.
Minecraft is a craze that’s sweeping our youth. Its junky graphics are actually intentional, believe it or not. Each piece is meant to represent a building block – kind of like a whole world built with animated Legos but with even greater creative possibilities.
Minecraft is fun for kids of all ages and ability levels. But Minecraft also has surprising benefits specifically for children with Autism.
It allows them to explore a world without rules – social, pseudo-political, scholastic or otherwise. They get to take things in at their own pace. They can build anything they want, however they want.
It’s OK to make mistakes in Minecraft. Messing up won’t mean the end of a friendship or a bad grade in school. They get to fix it and move on. Best of all, Minecraft is a world of their very own.
Set your child and their playdate up with Minecraft, and they’ll both be entertained and engaged for hours.
Lego Building Playdate
Children with Autism are captivated by the brightly colored Legos and the endless possibilities they represent. Larger block Legos are great for younger kids or children at differing ability levels.
(Notice: We’re using the term “Lego” here pretty loosely. Large blocks of any kind would do, but we recommend ones that connect together in some way.)
You can give your child and their playdate models to try to recreate or let them explore the laws of physics all on their own.
Who doesn’t love hanging by the pool? Even if your child isn’t a great swimmer, they probably love wasting the day away in the sun and cooling off in the pool water.
Again, we use the term “pool” loosely. You can engage your child and their playdate in a number of water activities, including:
- Slip ‘n’ slides
- Kiddie pools
- Sprinkler fun
- Water balloon battles
- Water gun wars
Your child may not enjoy being completely submerged in water, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the cool consistency water games have to offer. Playing in the water is something children of all ability levels can appreciate.
Puppet Show Playdate
Puppet shows are a fun way to entertain your child and their friend and teach a lesson!
Achieving the latter will mean that you have to be heavily involved in orchestrating the playdate. In other words, you have to put on the puppet show yourself.
You can perform retellings of well-known fairy tales, act out your child’s favorite movie or, if you’re really creative, make up your own story. (It’s the most fun when you make the story up as you go along. You might even think about asking your child and their friend what should happen next!)
If you’re wanting a less hands-on approach (pun intended), you can allow the kids to put a show on for you.
Snack Time – the Best Part of a Playdate
Eating is a universal need. That sounds silly, but hear us out: Enjoying a savory meal or a tasty treat with another person is a communal activity that can really bring people together. Eating together is a great equalizer.
Pop some popcorn, pull out the carrot sticks or serve some gummy candies. Your kid and their playdate will love it no matter what.
Your child’s disability doesn’t define them, so it doesn’t have to exclude them from things like playdates. They can experience the same levels of friendship, kindness and fun as every other kid out there. It’s just a matter of finding common ground.
Amanda Woodard is the Marketing Director for Achievement Center of Texas, a nonprofit Day Care and Day Hab center for people with special needs in the Dallas metroplex. She graduated with a BA in Social Science from University of North Texas and volunteers during the school year as a tutor with Reading Partners. She lives in Dallas with her dog, Sirius.