How to Make Staying Home Fun for Families with Kids with Autism
It’s been two weeks since Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to “stay at home” as a strategy to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
For some parents and children with autism or other developmental disabilities, being at home may still feel like a vacation or a needed break. For others, “cabin fever” may be starting to set in as you look at your kids home from school every day and start to wonder – or even panic – about how to occupy the time, keep the kids entertained, and even how to make the most out of the time at home.
Fun is possible – and even necessary – in stressful times like these. It just takes some creativity and thinking ahead. In the situation we’re facing, with multiple family members likely at home, developing a list of various activities that include the entire family is a great first step to coming up with ideas for fun that can keep everyone occupied.
If you come at this with a positive attitude, you’ll soon realize that our circumstance has created an opportunity for us all to live more in the moment and be present with each other. Maybe this means more communication with family members, more time helping kiddos work on their skills, more time reading, or just more time hanging out with each other. For example, you may be having more meals together than during “normal” times when people’s schedules can be so different and challenging to align. Mealtime in and of itself can be a fun activity, such as trying to figure out how to make dinner with what’s in the house and involving the family in the decision.
Here are 10 more ideas for activities that can make being home fun for the whole family. Every child on the spectrum and every sibling is different, so you’ll want to adapt these ideas to work for your situation. Based on the functional level of your kids, you can make these activities simpler or more challenging … it’s up to you.
- Given how important it is right now to comply with proper health and hygiene practices to help minimize the spread of the coronavirus, one of the first things you could do is invent a game to help kids understand and adopt the right habits. This can include practices such as handwashing and “social distancing.” Parents can use fun reinforcement and rewards to encourage the desired behaviors. For example, if the children follow instructions to wash their hands for the recommended amount of time throughout the day, they could be rewarded with the opportunity to choose what the family is going to have for dinner that night. The same with social distancing. Make it a game to learn to stay six feet apart. Use ribbon or tape or string to illustrate how far apart six feet is and teach the kids to appreciate the distance and stand back.
- Increase use of Facetime or other telephone or online communications so kids can stay in touch with friends and relatives they may not otherwise see as often now. For example, you might schedule a Facetime call with grandma every afternoon at 4:00 PM, which allows you to check on her and gives the kids an opportunity to stay connected. This can also help establish a new “normal” routine for the kids.
- Encourage healthy living by engaging in regular movement activities at home or outside, as weather permits, including walks, hikes, going to the park, building a fort, planning an obstacle course or conducting a scavenger hunt. There are so many things to do inside and out based on your type of housing, the play spaces available, and your proximity to parks and other outdoor amenities. Just be sure to maintain a safe “social distance” with others who may also be out taking a walk in the park.
- Schedule daily “story time” with the kids, including reading aloud to each other. This also can become part of the new routine. You may even join a family member or friend to make it a group “book club” via an online video conference platform where everyone takes turns choosing and reading books to each other. Reminder: audio books are available for loan through library websites even if the library is closed.
- Invent new games, such as a board game or card game based on a book, movie or show that the children or whole family really like.
- Change the rules of an old game to make it different and new and to challenge both the adults and the kids to practice flexibility; you are likely to try some new rules that make the game even more silly and fun.
- Draw portraits of each other or draw or paint anything else of interest to the children or family. Hang up the art and have your own family art show.
- Take a free “virtual” museum tour online to see the historical or natural history items, paintings, sculpture or crafts on display at an actual museum. Many museums around the world show highlights of their collections online. The Smithsonian is just one example of an excellent collection of exhibits you can view online.
- Create a donation pile of toys, clothes and books that have been outgrown and are no longer needed, and research charities that accept donations. This activity might be part of a planned “spring cleaning” of the house, so it’s a way to be productive as well as teach the kids sorting and categorization of items, and to make decisions about what to keep versus give up and the importance of sharing with others less fortunate.
- Hold your own “Family Olympics,” which can be a fun and sneaky way to get the kids to do chores. Think “Gold Medal Bed Maker” or “Silver Medal Vacuumer.” You could do this on a daily or weekly basis and keep score of points on a board in the kitchen or garage, with prizes to the “winners.” It also makes mundane but necessary tasks fun and engaging.
Everyone can participate in these activities. They can be tailored to various skill levels and accommodate participation by siblings who are not on the spectrum. As important, the activities can become part of new, normal routines that make coping with the changes easier.
Remember, everyone needs a break sometime, and if you need an extra set of hands to provide care giving for your child with autism or other developmental disabilities while you run out for groceries, prescription medications, or just take time to go take a walk by yourself, our Traditional In-Home Respite services and Specialized Personal Assistance services are available.