Christiansen's son, Jackie, is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is the author of Planet A: A Mother's Memoir of ASD.
Some Screen Time With Friends Can Be Good
Many parents with high-functioning autistic children have the same concern: how can we get our child away from his computer or iPad? It’s not easy. Many of the places that we think of as fun can be overwhelming for ASD kids. Extreme crowds with loud noises and different odors can create anxiety for our children. This can lead to melt-downs within ten minutes. Many ASD children feel safe in their own homes with their eyes locked on a screen.
Here Are Four Ideas to Get Your Child off the Screen for a Few Hours and out to Enjoy the Outdoors!
1. Biking Scavenger Hunt:
When Summer is over, don’t put those bikes in storage. Autumn is the perfect time for your child to head out on his bike. It may be tough to motivate him to shut down the computer and trade it in for exercise. Many ASD children find it difficult to make that transition. Make it interesting with a biking scavenger hunt. Write up a list of objects to find. Ideas such as train tracks, a certain color car or a tree with the best Fall colored leaves are good options. Have your child bring their phone or camera to take pictures of the items on the list. Once they are home, print out the pictures to see how many items were found. You can also have your child bring items back instead of taking pictures. If there are businesses close by, your child might visit them, bringing back items such as a paper napkin from a restaurant, a paper clip from an office or a deposit slip from a bank. This type of scavenger hunt will create a social aspect to the game as your child asks for the items on the list. I have done this both ways. My son did a photo scavenger hunt with a friend and they had a blast. Plus, it was five hours away from the screen and more time spent out of doors!
2. Ice Cream Taste Test
Bring the taste of summer back with an ice cream taste test! If you live in a community where there are many ice cream parlors close by, take advantage of it by having an ice cream road trip. Make up a chart listing the different ice cream shops that will be visited and then a rating system. Map out the locations and head out. At each shop sample the ice cream. We made sure to order a child size scoop and shared it at each stop. As we sampled, we gave each shop a rating based on several factors: cleanliness, easy access location, and, of course, quality of ice cream. After three different stops we evaluated our chart and labeled the shops from best to worst. You can branch out from this activity to compare candy stores, coffee shops for hot chocolate comparison or even sushi. It’s a great way to get your ASD child out of the house and experimenting with food.
3. Library Hide and Seek
For a fun little outing, a visit to the library can be a good choice. My son doesn’t really enjoy reading and getting him to the library was difficult, so I created a hide and seek game just for those visits. Before you go, decide on a topic that is of interest to your child. My son loves cars so that was ours. Make it a race to see who can find the most interesting book on the topic choice. Your child can use the card catalog or library computer to find the location of the books and then roam the stacks to find his pick. You can divide up or take turns, keeping your choice a secret until you are both finished. Then compare and see who is the winner. Another way to play is to search the card catalog before you play, making a list of titles and locations of interesting books for you and your child to find. Divide up and have a time limit to see how many of the books each of you can find. The winner might choose a movie to check out to watch later. This game is a wonderful way to teach older ASD children how to use the library searching system and help younger children search the library using the Dewey Decimal System.
4. Play Ground Road Trip
Road trips are a part of summer in my house, but when school begins the fun of jumping in the car and heading out to the great unknown is over. Here is a way to carry on with the road trip idea on a smaller scale. My son loves playgrounds and we have a handful of them in our neighborhood, but there have been times when I would drive through a different town and see an interesting playground to try. Children on the spectrum benefit a lot from physical activity. Not only is it just plain healthy, but playing on a playground can alleviate stress and be a calming mechanism. Do a search of the areas around you, finding local playgrounds that your child has not explored. You can look in a ten-mile radius or further away depending on the time you want to spend driving. I always feel like a good road trip should involve being on the road, so we opted for a few playgrounds further away. Pack up a cooler of snacks and map out the different locations. We took a rating chart, giving each playground a rating between one and five stars. By the time we were finished, we felt as if we had been on another summer road trip, but the cooler temperatures made the play easier. Exploring the new play areas was exciting and we laughed at the one playground that was a dud. We took a few pictures and enjoyed the fresh air away from the computer screen.
Getting your ASD child out of doors doesn’t have to be a struggle. All it takes is a little creativity. Use one of these four ideas or take pieces from each to create your own adventure away from the computer. You may find that your child is open to having an adventure once a month or even once a week. He may put together his own or create a surprise outing for you. Help him remember that the computer will always be there waiting.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 08, 2017:
Thanks for these suggestions. Sometimes parents think, "It's difficult to get the kinds to move. End of story." The effort is well worth it.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 08, 2017:
Again very good advice. These issues we should address with all children.