6 Sensory-Safe Summer Activities For Children with Autism and Special Needs
July 27, 2022 | In: Autism Resources
It’s officially summertime, and if you are a parent of a child in grade school, you know what that means – school’s out and daytime fun is on the roster! This sunny season is a welcome respite from months of sitting and studying for all children and is a great opportunity for them to get active and practice their physical, mental, and social skills. However, for families of children with autism or special needs, participating in popular summer activities that involve crowded spaces and loud noises – like shopping centers, waterparks, and fairs – is not as easy.
Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or sensory processing disorders are commonly sensitive to lights and sounds, and have difficulty communicating exactly what they want or need. This can result in severe discomfort or meltdowns that can garner unwanted attention on families that only want their child to have a positive experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of sensory-safe summer activities for children of all abilities that will still allow them to explore a variety of popular summer amusements. Here are 6 (3 outdoor and 3 indoor!) sensory-safe summer activities that we recommend for families of children with autism and special needs.
Outdoor Sensory-Safe Summer Activities
Hit the Pool or the Beach
Apart from being an important life skill to master, swimming has excellent sensory benefits for children on the spectrum. Its even hydrostatic pressure is calming and relaxing and allows kids to move their limbs about more freely when floating. Additionally, it helps boost self-confidence and self-reliance.
Public swimming pools and waterparks are typically crowded in the summer which may be the opposite of what parents are looking for. There may be certain times of the day that are less crowded and this is something that you can monitor a few days before you decide to go. However, finding private pools, getting in touch with friends or other families that have pools at their house, or even investing in an inflatable pool for your yard are also great ways to get your pool fix. There are even resources, like Swimply, that help you find private pools for rent for a day.
If you are lucky enough to be close enough to a beach, this is a great option to get children in the water and spaced out from large crowds. Whether or not you are comfortable letting your child submerge fully in the water past the tide, just sticking their feet in and feeling the waves against their skin is an exciting, refreshing experience. There is also the fun possibility of building sand castles, searching for sea shells, and playing other beach games to keep their minds and bodies active.
Pack a Picnic and Go to a Sensory-Safe Park
Organize a playdate and pack a picnic of their favorite snacks and lunchtime treats to enjoy with close friends or classmates. Similar to visiting a beach, public parks provide a structured, spaced-out environment for children on the spectrum to get their Vitamin D and stay active. Parks are suitable for people of all ages, so it is a great activity for the entire family to enjoy. Additionally, there are ample opportunities for children to practice their social skills, manage unexpected situations, and work on their gross motor skills on playgrounds or by playing classic outdoor games, like tag, catch, and frisbee.
If you want to find a park with a sensory-safe playground, we recommend following Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration. My Playground® is their catalyst program with the mission of providing fully inclusive, sensory-safe playground experiences for children with disabilities. Similar to We Rock the Spectrum sensory gyms, these playgrounds allow children of ALL abilities to play together without fear of judgment or exclusion.
Go on a Nature Walk
Nature has a lot of learning opportunities and therapeutic benefits for children with autism and special needs. Spending time outdoors is an inexpensive way to help kids improve their coordination, attention, and mood. Whether it is at a local park, on a hiking trail nearby, or in your own backyard, this activity motivates children to exercise, explore, and learn about the world around them.
Encourage your child to interact with their senses by smelling flowers, feeling tree bark and leaves, or listening carefully for bird and insect calls. Do be aware of what leaves and insects to avoid when exploring, though! Once you have finished your walk or hike, your child will feel a great sense of accomplishment.
Indoor Sensory-Safe Summer Activities
Go to Your Local Sensory-Safe Gym
If you want to stay out of the heat but still enjoy all the freedom that summer has to offer, there really is no better place to ROCK, make friends, and stay active than a local We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym. With 12 specialized pieces of sensory-safe equipment, arts & crafts, and opportunities to meet other families of children on the spectrum at an Open Play session, our indoor sensory gyms are all designed to aid children with sensory processing disorders and provide a place for children of every ability level to play and grow together.
Hailed as “a place where you never have to say ‘I’m sorry’”™, We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gyms are staffed with employees who are trained to assist and play with children who may require a little extra encouragement or assistance. The equipment is designed to cater to the developmental needs of children with sensory processing disorders and is evem utilized by Occupational Therapists who run sessions from one of the 100+ locations worldwide. We Rockers especially love to go down the fan-favorite Zip Line, which helps them build strength and endurance, enhancing their ability to integrate and tolerate movement.
Furthermore, We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym offers specialized summer camps for children of all abilities to enjoy sensory-safe play, crafts, and excursions. Find your nearest We Rock to get enrolled in camp or set up a time for Open Play.
Play Movement-Focused Video Games or Watch a Dance Class
If you are feeling anxious about bringing your child to public spaces or want to avoid the heat, you can still encourage them to play from the comfort of home. It may be tempting to let them sit and play video games or watch hours of TV but there are video games you should explore that can help exchange their movements to keep their minds and bodies active. Games like Just Dance, and gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch encourage children to think beyond using their senses and movements for development by making it into a fun competition.
Not to worry if you don’t have a gaming console. YouTube has an incredible library of fitness videos that are designed to meet the physical and time requirements of any user. Accounts such as Powered to Move and MUVEmethod have dance and exercise videos that can be accessed at anytime from anywhere. Getting your children in motion through fun, interactive videos and games that the whole family can do together encourages them to improve their cardio strength, balance, and simply just have fun!
Get Crafty With Household Items
There’s no need to break the bank on complex art kits and supplies! Allowing your child to explore their creative side with items that you have around the house is a great way to break the boredom to get their hands and minds moving.
An easy place to start is putting together a sensory bin. Grab a cardboard or plastic container, add a variety of different small, dry objects and mix them all together. Items such as dry beans, cotton balls, dry pasta, beads, and other non-sharp objects, offer a great amount of sensory stimulation that can help soothe a child’s mood. Other creative homemade sensory crafts include sensory bottles, homemade slime, finger painting, play-doh, and more. Check out the instructions for some other ideas here.
Finding sensory-friendly crafts is very beneficial for a child’s development as it refines motor skills, encourages cognitive thinking, and can be a calming activity for anxious kids.
Summertime should be filled with summer fun for children of all abilities! By seeking out opportunities that are new, unique, action-packed, and, most importantly, comfortable for your child with autism or special needs to enjoy, you are sure to have a memorable season that will have them looking forward to every summer to come.
Still have questions or want more ideas on how to get involved with your local autism and special needs community this summer? We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym is dedicated to providing exciting, fulfilling play experiences that offer complete inclusion for all. Get in touch with us today, visit one of our locations, or learn how you can become the owner of your very own location.