Categories / 
Helpful tips
13 activities for teenagers with autism

13 activities for teenagers with autism

There are a lot of negative stereotypes and presumptions about the capabilities of children with autism, and some may wonder what kind of activities they may be able to participate in or enjoy. It’s important to remember that every individual with autism is different. Suppose you're a parent of a child with autism; it might be hard to picture what the future holds and how it affects the quality of life for your child. 

Autism can affect how individuals interact and communicate with others. Therefore, individuals with autism might have behaviors you are not used to and may find it difficult to talk to others. However, no matter the spectrum of related problems, there are still many activities for teens with autism to enjoy.

What activities can you do with teenagers with autism?

Ups and downs are a normal part of life for all young people. However, teenagers with autism can have more frequent or severe mood changes than their peers. The reason is that they tend to be very resistant to changes in their daily activities. Some might even have meltdowns when they feel entirely overwhelmed, lose control of their behavior, and find it very hard to calm themselves.

They prefer to repeat specific behaviors for hours, so they refuse to stop and react if interrupted. Thus, it can be a challenge to engage them in new activities. 

Such unique challenges for parents can feel exhausting and complicated at times. However, specific exercises can help your teens feel more comfortable socializing and making friends with others. 

In addition, there are practical steps to take to make your teenager feel loved and cared for without them feeling distressed.

Here are some ideas for activities to do with your teenager child with autism:

1. Board games

Interestingly, board games can have several benefits for teenagers. 

For example, the theory of the Mind Gaming Program at Michigan Medicine utilizes board games as a part of speech therapy for teenagers with autism. It helps enhance their narrative ability, conversation, and problem-solving skills. It also helps them understand rules and the idea of taking turns. 

However, learning about it is more difficult for kids with autism, who do not understand verbal explanations. 

Board games are one of the best examples of games that you can play with your teenager with autism. 

2. Dancing

Another fun activity to do is dancing! 

Dancing removes any feelings of awkwardness and leads to the release of endorphins, making any teenager with autism feel happy. 

In addition, doing it in a group can improve social interaction skills while encouraging their confidence. 

You can play some music and start dancing and invite them to join or watch a few easy-to-follow dance videos on the internet. 

3. Reading books

Generally, reading helps improve cognition and keep the brain active. Thus, a reading program tailored to children with autism improves their reading comprehension, making them more imaginative, and establishes new connections between brain areas involved in understanding language. 

Therefore, we recommend that you encourage your teenage child to read. It is especially helpful to read genres like educational, fiction, and scientific books that are easy to read and understand.

4. Storytelling 

Like reading, storytelling can help teens with autism develop a stronger imagination. 

Impromptu storytelling activities can encourage them to be spontaneous and creative. They can try telling their own made-up stories, which can help improve their language skills and communication while building confidence. 

They could also recount events in their own lives, such as going to the mall or an exciting event at school. 

5. Video games

Video games can be fun, help build skill sets, and provide various options to stimulate the mind and imagination. 

For instance, a puzzle game will require them to use logic. In contrast, role-playing will encourage creativity and comprehension. 

Though video games are fun, they also teach how to follow the rules, manage time, and multitask.

6. Music 

Music can be therapeutic for teenagers with autism. 

It helps to settle mood swings, improves behavior, reduces anxiety, and can be a great segway into activities such as dancing. Also, making music by playing an instrument can be a fun activity that enhances mind capabilities. 

It can improve the development of speech, language and memory abilities.

7. Getting a pet 

If possible, getting a pet can be great for your teenager with autism, as they can act as emotional support for your child

In addition, the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine shows that pets can aid in developing social skills faster, sleeping better, and being physically healthier. Teens can learn skills such as responsibility by taking care of pets, allowing them to practice and develop practical skills.

8. Working in a garden

If you have access to a home garden, try spending some time with your teen there. 

You could plant seeds, water plants, or rake the fallen leaves. 

Nurturing plants and cultivating a garden can be a calming and therapeutic exercise for teens with autism. If you don't have a home garden, you and your teen can volunteer in a community garden, or you can create one in the backyard. 

Becoming a part of gardening projects can readily boost your teen's social skills and help them come in contact with nature better than usual.

10. Watching TV 

TV can be a tool for learning and understanding the world. 

Teens with autism can benefit significantly from well-chosen TV programs. It can help improve their language skills and get them acquainted with various topics. 

For instance, some kids love watching shows about dinosaurs or sports. TV can also simulate visual and auditory senses.

11. Crafting with clay

Playing with clay can be a fun and creative exercise, and can help teenagers with autism understand instructions, and simulate the sense of touch. 

It will also engage them in asking for help and using their imagination to create something new. 

However, not all teens with autism like to get their hands dirty as it may cause sensory overload. If you think that crafting with clay is likely to cause distress to your child, you can try an alternative activity. 

12. Solving puzzles

Like video games, puzzles stimulate the mind and imagination. 

Teens with autism can enjoy working on puzzles that require being focused and disciplined to finish them. It helps subdue any restlessness and grittiness and also exercises their minds. 

Most children with autism that are visually skilled enjoy solving jigsaw puzzles of different difficulty levels. 

13. Playing sports 

Playing sports can benefit children with autism of all ages. 

For example, engaging in physical activities such as basketball, football, and tennis can help youths with autism by improving motor skills, skill-related fitness, social functioning, and muscular strength and endurance. 

Playing sports in groups can also show the importance of rules, healthy competition, and teamwork while socializing sportively with other players.

Benefits of engaging in activities with teenagers on the spectrum

Autism therapy comes in many forms and is mainly aimed at developing a child's social, communication, and cognitive skills. Most of these skills are taught in schools where students learn and engage with facilitators and other children on the spectrum. 

While this is essential and beneficial to the development of young people with autism, physical activity is another aspect of therapy that may be overlooked in ABA Therapy, which tends to be more behavior and communications based for skill development. 

"Exercise is medicine" is a common phrase among health practitioners and fitness coaches, and research attests to this fact. 

With an increasing number of cases involving kids with autism, it is safe to say that physical activity can provide them with many benefits.

To help you understand the importance of physical activity in your child with autism’s routines, here are some benefits of including it in autism therapy:

  • Physical activity provides communication, cognitive, sensory, and social skills, which overlaps with the many benefits of classroom-based autism therapy. It also increases motor skills, improves mechanism control such as head-nodding, arms flapping, and body rocking, and enhances cardiovascular health.
  • Additionally, as caregivers to teenagers with autism, it is essential to be intentional about the routine and activities of special kids. For example, exposing them to physical activities and including a fitness plan in their therapy ensures their development, boosts their self-esteem, and allows them to thrive and be happy. 
  • With the increasing cases of obesity in children, it is now more crucial than ever to include physical activity in kids' routines. Kids on the spectrum are twice likely to be overweight. Obesity and the absence of physical activity can lead to poor motor functioning, joint pain, lack of motivation to engage in physical activity, and an increased chance of diabetes. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 60 minutes of daily exercise to prevent and fight these negative tendencies.
  • Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins. These endorphins interact with the brain's receptors to reduce pain perception. For children on the spectrum, increased positive emotions mean increased social skills and cognitive functioning, decreased challenging behaviors, and a reduced need for moral support. Research studies have shown how beneficial it is to include physical activity in autism therapy. It goes a long way to improve the overall development and health of teens with autism. Fitness is all about finding what works for the individual, and it is a necessity in autism therapy. It should be enjoyable and engaging. According to this study conducted with teens with autism, they seem to enjoy the following types of physical activity: hiking, jogging, swimming, and so on. The two most frequently performed activities were active video gaming and walking or hiking.

How to encourage physical activity in young individuals with autism

Including physical activity afresh for teens with autism can be challenging. 

Here are helpful tips to make the process easier:

  1. Start small - Rather than allocating a significant time frame for activity, it is easier to maintain shorter periods spaced throughout the day. Patience is key here as it is the goal to gradually include this in their daily routine. Activities to begin can consist of walking to school, walking the dog, family trips to the playground, etc.
  2. Build motor skills - To be successful in participating in sports and physical activities, teens with autism need to develop basic motor skills. Activities like running, hopping, skipping, throw and catch, kick and strike are great options.
  3. Try different types of physical activity - It is ideal for various sampling activities that encourage fitness, social interaction, and independence.
  4. Be a role model and enlist friends and family - Parents, friends, teachers, and family members can significantly influence kids with autism. They must receive support and encouragement from individuals close to them.

ABA therapy for teenagers

Many therapies focus on reducing problematic behaviors and promoting positive behaviors differently. An essential treatment is applied behavior analysis or ABA therapy. It is derived from behaviorist models of medicine, where rewards and consequences can help elicit desired behaviors in individuals. 

Involving your teens in some of the above activities can produce similar results as applied behavior analysis. 

That includes reducing undesirable behaviors, like outbursts or tantrums, and teaching teens to communicate more effectively. With effort and time, you can help your teenager improve their skills for a smooth and comfortable life ahead.

Other articles from Forta

Guide to creating a morning routine for your child with autism
Read more
4 ways to monitor your child's progress in ABA therapy
Read more
Estimating the costs of autism on a family
Read more