Sensory Activities for Children with Autism - Acorn Health

February 8, 2022

Sensory-Friendly Activities to Try When Winter Weather Keeps You Indoors

Winter can be a challenging time of year for parents. When the temperatures plummet and the sun hides behind the clouds for months, finding appropriate and enjoyable activities for your child with autism can be difficult. If your child is currently involved in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, your child’s behavior analyst can be a great resource to ask for activity ideas to keep your child happy and healthy throughout the winter months.

Acorn Health is sharing several creative ideas that you can try at home with your child, and these activities also serve as opportunities to practice principles from ABA therapy at home.

  • Visit indoor museums or aquariums. This is the perfect time of year to venture out of your home to explore local museums and aquariums. Head out during a time of the week that tends to be less busy, and navigate exhibits that your child is drawn to. Allow time for your child to view and explore their favorite spots without rushing them to the next exhibit. Also, look for local museums that have sensory friendly hours, which tend to be more sensitive to lights, sounds or crowds.
  • Make pretend snow. Whether it’s a winter wonderland outside or not, bring the snow inside with this clever recipe. Combine 2 ½ cups of pure baking soda with ½ cup of conditioner in a bowl and mix together. Show your child how to make snowballs and build a snowman together inside! Show them how to play with this new texture and encourage them to tell you what they are thinking as they touch and shape the pretend snow.
  • Paint with snow: A snow day may be a reason to celebrate for many kids, but when your child has autism, a break in regular schedules could cause unease. At the beginning of the snow day, walk through the day’s schedule with your child and let them know what to expect. Introduce this fun activity of painting with the snow, which may be a calming and creative way to release energy. Fill squirt bottles with food coloring and water, place fresh snow on a metal cooking pan, and encourage your child to squeeze the colored water all over the pan of snow.
  • Sensitive sledding: Racing down a hill may seem like a right of passage for many kids, but for some children, the idea of gathering around a lot of people and falling steeply into the frigid snow could be upsetting. There are ways to modify a sledding experience to make it enjoyable for your child. Consider pulling your child on a sled around your neighborhood, and pick a smaller hill in your area that is less crowded. Ask neighborhood Facebook groups for places to take your child to sled that may be less known than the typically popular sledding hill. Also, be careful that your child doesn’t go too fast to where they fall into the snow; an abrupt cold feeling on their face or hands could mean heading home early from your sledding adventure.
  • Shaping winter play-doh: Here’s another calming indoor sensory activity to do with your child. Use this simple play-doh recipe and add blue food coloring. Then, use cookie cutters or other household tools to cut out snowflakes, snowballs and other winter-themed shapes together.
  • Create winter sensory bottles. Shaking, observing and playing with sensory bottles is an excellent at-home activity for children, and they may also use these bottles during their ABA therapy as well. Bring home the benefits of sensory play with this simple at-home craft. Gather supplies—a plastic bottle, glitter, sequins, clear glue, and any other craft supplies you want to explore within the bottle. Fill the bottle halfway with water, add decorative supplies, and then add clear glue to fill up the bottle. Use a hot-glue gun to secure the top of the lid. After it dries, shake it up to watch the materials float around.
  • Head outdoors for a nature walk. Being outside in the winter can be one of the most calming activities for children, and especially children with autism. It provides them an open space to run, play and explore without the stimulation of indoor environments. If the temperatures are agreeable, head outside to a nearby park or trail (ensuring your child is bundled up!)

Trying new activities in a cold, bright environment can be a challenge itself for your child. To get the most out of your winter activities and avoid hesitancy or upsetting your child, here are several tips:

  • Limit distractions and set up the activity in a quiet room in your home away from TVs, electronics or other distractions.
  • For some children, it could be beneficial to show video clips of others completing cold weather activities before heading out into the snow. Parents can narrate the video clips to name different parts of an activity.
  • Before jumping into a new craft or game, model the different ways to play with the activity first, but encourage your child to have fun — there is no right way to play!
  • Practice putting on winter clothing before you actually need to face the cold and snow. Snow pants, big bulky coats and hats and mittens can be scratchy and feel heavy. If your child gets used to these new textures and feelings sooner, the less likely you will face protests when winter gear is really needed.
  • Incorporate winter fun activities at home instead of big public spaces, which can lessen the likelihood of fear associated with crowds.

If you’d like more information about how ABA therapy could help your child and your family, call Acorn Health at 844-244-1818 to schedule a free consultation.