Engaging autistic teenagers in various activities is essential for helping them learn and nurture necessary skills that may otherwise be hard for them to master. Activities ranging from arts and crafts to music, animal care, and even playing video games can increase your teen’s confidence, sense of self-worth, and general well-being.
Below, we discuss the best activities for teens with autism spectrum disorder that are both educational and fun.
15 Activities for Autistic Teenagers
Board games are highly beneficial for children with special needs, including autism. Playing board games can help your autistic teen develop skills that are often hard to master, such as concentrating, following the rules, and taking turns.
When choosing a board game to play with your teen, make sure that the game difficulty level suits your child's ability.
You may want to start with a simple game that requires only throwing the dice and moving the pawn, such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, or dominoes. If your teen has a good visual-spatial memory, they may enjoy playing chess and other more advanced strategy games. Some board games, such as Social Skills Bingo for Teens, focus specifically on teaching social skills, asking questions, and understanding body language.
For teenagers with autism spectrum disorder, painting can be a great means of expression. Studies show that engaging in artistic activities encourages children with autism to communicate their feelings and emotions. Activities such as painting and drawing can enhance your autistic teen’s fine and gross motor skill development, in addition to building and strengthening their visual-spatial skills. They can also positively impact communication, social interaction, and self-esteem.
Some autistic teenagers avoid painting due to tactile defensiveness. If your child likes technology, you can suggest using the Draw Something app. This social drawing tool will allow your teen to interact with friends and send them pictures they draw. The Scribblify painting app with its extensive selection of brushes, drawing modes, color effects, and backgrounds can be another fun way for your teen with tactile sensitivity to create artwork.
Teens with autism often have limited motor function, strength, and coordination, all of which can affect their daily life skills and self-esteem. Exercising on a regular basis will allow your teenager not only to improve their physical health, but also to enjoy a variety of activities with friends and family.
Physical activity can also enhance a general feeling of well-being and counterbalance depression and anxiety, in addition to improving your child’s learning and social behavior. Regular physical activity has even been shown to decrease repetitive behaviors like body rocking, spinning, and head-nodding in children and teens with autism.
The Autism Fitness website offers exercise suggestions suitable for autistic teens and provides many other fitness-related resources for teenagers with autism.
Cooking is a soothing and predictable activity ideal for autistic teenagers. Meal preparation is an essential daily living skill that will help your teen become more independent as an adult. What’s more, cooking and sharing meals is also an excellent way to develop social skills.
Before starting to teach your teen with autism how to cook, make sure to take into consideration any sensory issues, fine and gross motor limitations, and food aversions. The eduAUTISM website offers plenty of recipes for autistic children and teenagers that accommodate different food-related challenges. Here you’ll also find gluten-free, dairy-free, casein-free, and sugar-free recipes for children who are on a restriction diet.
Reading should be a part of every autistic teen’s daily routine as it helps develop language and improves learning and comprehension skills. Encourage your child to read a variety of fiction, educational, and scientific books that are easy to understand, but also books that are specifically targeted towards autistic teens.
AAPC Publishing offers a range of inspirational and informative books for autistic tweens and teens with communication and social skills challenges, such as The Secret Rules of Social Networking by B. Klipper and R. Shapiro-Rieser and Diary of a Social Detective by J. Jessum.
Brightly has excellent book suggestions for teens with autism, for example The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a 13-Year-Old Boy with Autism by N. Higashida or Anything But Typical by Raleigh Baskin that deals with the topic of fitting in for autistic teens.
Carefully curated TV watching can help your teenager with autism build knowledge and skills that can be useful both in a school setting and everyday life. Through game shows and documentaries, for example, your child will be able to acquire the necessary language skills to discuss a variety of topics with their peers. In addition, selected TV programs can show them how to behave in various situations and help them develop social skills.
Children and teens with autism are often attracted to video games because of their visual nature, structure, and immediate feedback. The good news is, playing video games can be beneficial for your teenager as it encourages the development of problem-solving skills, use of logic, as well as imagination and creativity. Multiplayer and MMO games are excellent tools for improving your teen’s social skills. Video games your teen may enjoy playing include Minecraft, Portal 2, and New Super Mario Bros.
Puzzles are an ideal activity for autistic teens as they provide a tactile sensation, while at the same time helping your child improve focus and fine motor skills. Puzzles can also enhance creative and cognitive abilities and can have a calming effect when your teen is feeling restless. Furthermore, completing puzzles together with others can help enhance your teen’s language and communication. Always make sure to choose a puzzle with a suitable difficulty level for your teen and encourage them to talk about what they’re doing while working on the puzzle.
Building with LEGO blocks is a popular pastime among autistic teens. The activity is perceived as structured and predictable because the blocks come in limited shapes and sizes and the building process requires repetitive movements.
Building with LEGOs can also be beneficial for teens who experience anxiety in social situations, for example, if they are interacting with someone they don’t know well. Studies have shown that autistic children often become more interested in interacting with each other if they are playing with LEGOs. This mode of playing encourages children to use verbal and nonverbal communication skills, share with others, take turns, and use their problem-solving skills.
One of the best ways for autistic teens to develop a practical understanding of concepts such as responsibility and sharing is by doing household chores. They can start with simple tasks like putting things in their place, watering plants, or collecting letters from the mailbox. As they get comfortable with chores, you can teach them more advanced tasks, for example, how to make the bed, set the table, clean the house, or cook a simple meal.
Listening to music
Many teenagers with autism are emotionally responsive to music, and melodic sounds often capture their attention much better than spoken language. Listening to music is also a powerful multi-sensory experience that can help your autistic teenager reduce anxiety levels, develop their verbal and social skills, and improve memory. In addition, music offers security, comfort and increases self-confidence.
Learning an instrument
Playing musical instruments stimulates the brain to make new connections and strengthens existing ones, resulting in improved mental health and cognitive ability. Besides, it may help your teenager improve fine and gross motor skills as well as posture, concentration, coordination, and creativity. Playing in a musical ensemble can further build social and communication skills. Some of the musical instruments your teen with autism may enjoy learning and playing are the ukulele, guitar, violin, keyboard, recorder, trumpet, and bongos.
Dancing is a fun activity that can have a great impact on your autistic teen’s development. Joining a dance class can be hugely beneficial in improving your child’s concentration and memory, enhancing communication skills, increasing empathy, and developing the ability to adapt to different situations. Dancing and also boost your teen’s body image and body awareness.
For many teenagers on the autism spectrum, having control over the relationship between their minds and body is a major challenge. Meditation is an activity that can address some critical areas teens with autism struggle with, such as motor skills, sensory issues, and socializing with others. It can show your adolescent how to tune into the present moment instead of getting overwhelmed by emotions. Guided meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, or My.Life—that is created specifically for teens—are excellent options for learning how to meditate.
Research shows that interacting with animals significantly improves social behavior in children with autism. Animals can provide companionship to your autistic teen and help alleviate their stress and anxiety. Owning a pet will also foster a sense of responsibility in your child. The most suitable pets for autistic children and teens are older puppies or young dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, pet rats, and fish that your child may find relaxing to look at.
Of course, you don’t need to own a pet for your child to engage in animal care. Your teen can participate in a range of activities involving animals from horseback riding to volunteering at nature centers, fostering kittens or puppies, or working with animals at a local farm.
How ABA Therapy Can Help Autistic Teens with Their Activities
ABA is a form of behavioral therapy that focuses on changing unwanted behaviors and reinforcing desirable ones. It is the most widely researched and successful therapy for autism.
Although ABA is for the most part used for younger children with autism spectrum disorder, adolescents across the spectrum can also benefit from ABA-based interventions.
ABA therapy is used to build and improve social and communication skills, as well as daily living skills in children and teens with autism. These skills include everything from understanding social cues such as facial expressions and body language to initiating conversations, responding to questions, following directions, and acquiring basic academic skills. The therapy provides targeted treatment based on your child’s individual strengths and weaknesses.
ABA therapy typically uses positive reinforcement in the form of rewards and other incentives. When a desirable behavior is followed by a motivator, like a special treat or activity, children are more likely to repeat the action. Over time, this method leads to positive behavioral changes.
ABA therapy can help your child experience multiple sensory stimuli in a safe, welcoming environment and ultimately become more focused and better in their activities. ABA therapy has been shown to lead to improvements in skills such as eye contact, language, socialization, on-task behaviors, and concentration, all of which are required for successful participation in various activities your teen with autism engages in.