Autism Series – Activities Away From Home

by beagooddad on July 17, 2007

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autism activities 2BeAGoodMom and I are pretty busy people. We keep our kids pretty busy, too, by keeping them involved in most of our activities.

During this weekend alone, we took them grocery shopping, refrigerator shopping and to a family pig roast a couple hours from our house. Tonight they had swim class at the rec center. Tomorrow, they both have separate classes at the rec center and a play date. Then Wednesday back to the swim class.

They still get a lot of free time to play around our house. After all, they don’t have jobs.

How have we been able to help our autistic child learn to handle doing a lot of activities outside the house?

Start young. BeAGoodMom started taking the kids everywhere long before we knew Pookie had autism. By the time he was officially diagnosed, he could pretty much take himself grocery shopping without needing to write out a list first. Almost every morning, he starts asking to go “Bye-bye in the car” shortly after eating and getting dressed. The frequent trips have made being away from the house nearly as routine as being at the house.

Make it fun. We let Pookie take a favorite toy or book with him in the car and even into the store if the toy can be conveniently carried. When we go to Menards, we always stop in their little play area before checking out. When we go to the grocery store, they can pick one item they want to put in the cart.

autism activitiesLet them lead. I like to take Pookie to places like the park, or mall, or Target and just follow him around. It is a really great way to see what kinds of things he really likes. He loves Spencers at the mall. He also loves the store where they sell a bunch of stuff to furnish your home basement bar. He likes to look at all the neon lights. He likes to stop at one particular shoe store in the mall. It has a bead chaser toy. I would have never figured that out if I didn’t let him drag me in there.

Give them to other people. Relatives are great for this. So are the classes at the rec center. Forcing Pookie to be under the care of people that are not as used to dealing with his particular language and social skills helps him practice asking people when he needs something and responding when talked to.

autism activities 4Let those other people do their job. When other people are trying to talk to him, let them. Don’t sit around and prompt him through. It will just make the entire experience awkward for everybody. Relatives want to play with your kid. If they have questions, they will ask you. If your autistic child is in a class at something like the rec center and you are not required to stay in the class, then get out of there. Wait in the hall chewing on your nails, take your own class, read a book but don’t sit in the room staring at the teacher and your child ready to pounce and the first sign of confusion or protest from your child. Kids will almost always flee to their safety net at the first sign of tension. Don’t be that net during these classes. The main reason to sign up for these classes is so that your child can learn the independence of attending the classes without parental supervision. We often try to get Pookie and Geetle in separate classes just so that Geetle will not try to come over and talk for Pookie.

Getting help in a class. We’ve only done this with swimming so far, but plan to do it with other classes in the future. Our rec center will provide a one-on-one aide to work with a child with special needs in any class. Pookie is assigned to the same swim class as Geetle. He stays with the group for a fair portion of the class. The aide will also pull him a little bit away from the group and work with him alone while the main teacher continues to work with the group. The aide is only in the pool to work with Pookie. The rec center is probably getting some government funding to provide those services and the availability of those services is probably based off of the previous year’s use. Make sure to take advantage of this service if it is available to help keep it available.

autism activities 3Know your limits. Pookie is normally does well while shopping if he can keep moving. If he has to stand still for more than a minute or so, he often starts to get bored. The one place I really do not like to take the kids by myself is clothes shopping. There is so much standing around and really aimless walking that Pookie is pretty much guaranteed to try to wander off. Then, I end up holding his hand which makes shopping for clothes difficult. Plus, I get cranky. I hate buying clothes for myself anyway, so having pretty much anybody with me can make me irritable. That is my shortcoming. I avoid the problem by letting it be my one thing that I rarely do with the kids.

Did I miss anything? What other suggestions do you have?

Tomorrow we are going to talk about disciplining an autistic child. For a full list of everything planned for this series on autism, the topics and links for the post already written can be found on the intro post.

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