Introducing Grandchildren to New Activities

Grandparents may give up easily when their grandchild expresses disinterest in an activity. Individuals with autism are built to resist novelty at first. Trying new things is not usually their forte. Expanding outside of their autistic world is not usually very comfortable either, but it is necessary. We grow as humans by facing fears and doing new things. We do not grow when we are comfortable. Self esteem is cultivated by pushing our limits, achieving goals and feeling success.  Parents can sometimes stifle their child’s ability to take a risk (it’s hard for them to stay calm, cool and collected). Grandparents, however, may have much more success in encouraging their grandchild to try new activities.

So how do we encourage kids with autism to try new activities?

  • Provide two or three choices of activities and insist that the child choose one (provide visual information when possible and allow the child time to peruse and think)
  • Prepare the visuals (timers, pictures schedule) to support the child
  • Plan reinforcement!!! Motivation is KEY: What will the child earn by participating for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? (Show this visually in the form of tokens or a picture on a timer)
  • Practice the skills that are a part of the activity individually (task analysis): social skills, gross motor skills and fine motor skills (reinforce practice attempts!)
  • Choose activities that are more suited to kids with autism…team sports that require fast thinking, body contact and excellent eye/hand/body coordination are often too reliant on deficit areas
  • Use the child’s special interests as a basis for the activity (but remember, you may not know what a child is interested in until they have tried a variety of things)
  • Keep trying…if at first your grandchild is disinterested, try again later and then try again and again…kids change and preferences change
  • Determine with the child, a preset amount of time that the child will try the activity

The following is a list of possible activities to look for in your community

  • Boy Scouts/Brownies
  • Special Olympics
  • Bowling, lawn darts, bocci ball
  • Swimming/ kayaking, canoeing
  • Team sports: basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer
  • Tennis, badminton
  • Golf
  • Dance (yes boys can do this too!), drums, guitar, singing
  • Volunteer activities at parks, animal shelters, old age homes and zoos
  • Skateboarding, water skiing, wakeboarding
  • Chess club
  • Drama club
  • Environmental clubs
  • Art classes

Keep the goal in mind: we are doing this as grandparents in order to build social competence, develop talents and abilities and broaden leisure activities. It is a sad fact that adults with autism suffer from low self esteem, lack of leisure time activities and depression. You can make a difference in your grandchild’s life by starting young. Build a propensity to try new things and to develop varied interests. Friendships are created when individuals have the experience of socializing and enjoying activities with others that share the interest. Self esteem blossoms when children feel a part of a group. Children that have skill sets are often more socially accepted by their peers. Well known, autistic individual, Temple Grandin asserts the need for children to be “engaged with the world: we cannot let them tune out.”

Grandchildren with autism need to develop skills, talents and abilities that are beyond their comfort zone. We owe it to them to promote activities and action that promote their growth as individuals.