Summer Activities for Kids with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders

Child at beach, running sand through hand

Summer is a chance to play, rest and enjoy a change of pace. The shift in environment and pace can be more challenging for children with autism (ASD) or other sensory processing disorders, however, so we’ve worked with Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Institute on Disability and Community, to share some creative ideas for summer fun for kids on the spectrum or kids who are simply sensory sensitive. 

Summer fun starts with embracing exploration with new sensory activities, which may help improve sensory processing while reducing stress. Get outdoors and pay close attention for signs of frustration or overstimulation so you’ll know when to take a break.

  • Try seasonal foods through cooking activities. A farmer’s market may overwhelm some kids, but you can always bring summer fruits and vegetables home to try. Prepare them together in your kitchen or try campfire-style, explaining what to do step by step.

  • Sandboxes make for a wonderful sensory play. If you don’t have one, create your own sensory table or bucket with any large container (i.e. a small plastic pool, a large plastic storage bin) and fill it with sand or water. You can also include some natural elements to discover within it, like flower petals or small toys.

  • Consider sensory needs with swimwear and sunscreens. But soft fabrics and fragrance-free lotions or sprays. Apply before you leave the house for the day or start a new activity. If your child is sensitive to some of these safety measures, then try alternatives like sun hats, sunglasses or soft, sun-blocking shirts. 

  • Schedule a time to safely swim together in a pool. Borrowing some time at a friend’s pool or scheduling private swimming time at a local pool (much like scheduling a private swim lesson) may help your child ease in and enjoy. Swimming helps with body awareness (if you want to get technical, we call this proprioception) and tactile input.

  • Build an obstacle course together in your yard or at a familiar playground.

  • Ride bikes or scooters.

  • Go to the playground.

Feeling adventurous? We've got a list of 39 amusement parks that offer special needs passes.

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