Summertime Activities That Will Engage Your Child With Autism

It’s summertime…the dreaded time of year for most autism parents! It is that time of year when your child goes from structure to non-structure and we begin to see more and more meltdowns because of this BIG transition.

Summertime doesn’t have to be full of dread and meltdowns. In fact, summertime is the time where you can connect and have fun with your child. You can finally work on teaching new skills that you do not have time to focus on during the school year. Things like learning new sounds or words, learning how to play a game, or learning how to use the playground equipment at a nearby park.

Your child does not have to be glued to technology the entire summer because there are so many fun activities that will help your child learn new skills while becoming socially connected to you. However, before planning out your child’s summer, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

First, your child likes structure so create a daily schedule for your child and go over it with him/her the night before and in the morning. The schedule doesn’t have to be elaborate; you can use a notebook and each day write down or draw a picture of what your child’s schedule will be. This not only helps your child but also helps YOU stay accountable and structured.

Create a few summertime goals for your child and then choose activities that will help your child reach those goals. Don’t get discouraged if your child can’t sustain engagement with an activity for hours and hours because that is unrealistic. Start small and increase the time. Choose activities with a clear start and end and only do them for 5-10 minute increments and gradually increase the time. Using a timer is always helpful because it lets your child know when the activity is over.

When doing activities with your child always work on language and communication. This is a time for you to connect with your child socially and the way we socially connect with one another is through nonverbal (i.e., eye contact) and verbal communication.  Last but not least HAVE FUN with your child.

There are so many summertime activities to choose from that it can often be overwhelming to a parent. Based on this, I have created a list of activities that both my clients and their parents have found to be beneficial. These activities are divided into five categories: sensory, gross motor, fine motor, games, and outings.

The great thing about these activities is that you don’t have to buy expensive material to implement them. All you have to do is look for simple objects that are lying around your house. Do one or more of these activities with your child daily and watch the social bond between you and your child become stronger while having fun.

1. Sensory Activities

Sensory play is wonderful because it encourages your child to use their five senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. Some ideas of sensory activities are blowing bubbles and having your child chase and pop them. Put shaving cream on a table and have your child draw or write letters and numbers. Fill a plastic bin with water beads and hide small zoo animals, dinosaurs, or whatever your child likes and then have your child find them. Each week change out the materials in the bin to shredded paper, pasta, sand, etc.

2. Gross Motor Activites

Gross motor activities focus on strengthening your child’s core while working on leg and arm coordination and muscle development. A fan favorite is Wax Paper Ice Skating.  Cut two pieces of wax paper, big enough for your child’s foot, and have your child place their foot on top of each piece of wax paper and skate around your house. You can also create an obstacle course in or outside of your house. Some ideas for an obstacle course are having your child walk on tape (works on balancing), throw a ball into a basket (works on eye-hand coordination), and crawl under a rope. Go for a daily bike or scooter ride and talk about what you see on your ride. This is a great way to work on language by teaching new nouns verbs that are happening in real life.

3.Fine Motor Activities

Fine Motor skills are important because they help with writing and self-help skills. Some fun fine motor activities are to look up a Play-Doh recipe on the Internet and make it with your child and then play with it.  You can work on finger and hand strengthening skills by rolling the Play-Doh into tiny balls or making animals like snakes. Another activity is to buy stickers of characters or objects that your child likes. Get a blank piece of paper and randomly puts dots all over the paper with a pen or marker.

Have your child put the sticker on top of the dots. To encourage writing, draw shapes, write numbers and letters, or write your child’s name on a piece of paper and have your child trace them. Last but not least, you can have your child bead their own fidget bracelet by using pipe cleaners and beads.

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4. Games

Games promote the concept of turn-taking and following rules. Start by playing a simple board and physical games with your child. Examples of simple board games to play are Don’t Break the Ice and Memory. Fun physical games are Freeze Dance and Tag. Once your child enjoys playing simple games, you can begin to teach games with more complex rules such as Candy Land, Hide-and-Seek, and Simon Says.

5. Outings

Outings are the best way to teach your child how to interact with the world. Start with going to your nearest park and work on things like going down the slide or teaching your child how to pump their legs while swinging. Another great outing is to take your child swimming. You can work on water safety during this time, but swimming also provides your child with a lot of sensory input. Go to your local library and attend a story time or check out books of subjects that your child enjoys. Once your child feels confident in doing any of these outings, invite a peer to join you, that way can have an innately structured play date.

These are just some examples of fun summertime activities that you can do with your child. If you look on the Internet, there are many more. When finding the right summer activities for your child, remember to follow your child’s lead. If your child isn’t into and activity move on and find something your child likes. By choosing activities that your child enjoys he/she is more likely to stay engaged with that activity for longer periods as well as strengthen the social connection with you. The ultimate goal of summer is to make memorable social connections with your child while having fun.


This article was featured in Issue 89 – Solutions for Today and Tomorrow with ASD

Annette Nunez

Annette Nunez, PhD is the founder and director of Breakthrough Interventions, LLC and Breaking Through Autism. She is a licensed psychotherapist and has worked with children with ASD and other related disorders for over 22 years. As part of her doctorate work at the University of Denver, Dr. Nunez developed the Children’s Social Competence Scale (CSCS). The CSCS is an early intervention evaluation tool that measures social competency in young children. She served as the Program Director for Connect Us, a non-profit organization that helps children cultivate positive relationships through facilitated play. Her research interests include the mainstreaming and socialization of children with high functioning autism. Dr. Nunez co-wrote and self-published the Friendship Is… book. She conducts many seminars both nationally and internationally and has consulted with many schools in China and South Africa. Dr. Nunez also consults and supervises the therapists at the Breakthrough Interventions site in South Africa. Dr. Nunez has been featured in the Huffington Post, NPR, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and FOX News. For more information visit the websites: and