Arts and crafts projects provide a multitude of skill-building opportunities for kids with autism. In fact, occupational therapists who work with children commonly use enjoyable projects to help their patients gain and sharpen skills in a fun way. Keeping kids engaged during therapy sessions can be challenging. Occupational therapists know that getting children to participate through play is the best way to keep the kids focused. Therapists often use arts and crafts projects since they are some of the most effective forms of creative play when it comes to helping kids build life skills.
As a parent, you, too, can help your child build confidence through various activities. From diamond painting to making sensory bottles, there are all sorts of projects you can work on with your son or daughter to help them strengthen valuable skill sets. Keep reading to discover some fun projects you both are sure to enjoy!
Choosing the Right Project(s) to Work on with Your Child
Autism exists on a broad spectrum. As a result, autistic children have a wide range of language, motor and cognitive capabilities. They also have varying interests, sensory preferences and aversions. As a parent, it is important to recognize your child’s unique strengths, weaknesses and preferences, and consider them when choosing activities. If you are trying to determine how to best engage your child in play-based skill-building activities, always keep their needs and interests in mind.
Occupational therapists strive to help kids with autism build their student skills for learning rather than forcing them to complete difficult tasks that only lead to frustration. They use a strategy called “scaffolding” to help the patient build skills without becoming aggravated or overwhelmed.
You can use this technique at home, too. Make skill-building activities more enjoyable and beneficial to your child by:
- Asking them to think about new ways to approach tasks or solve problems.
- Having them explain the steps or select the supplies needed to complete the task.
- Breaking large projects down into smaller, more manageable steps.
- Demonstrating how to do things they are struggling with.
- Prompting your child through the project.
- Maintaining a positive, supportive attitude.
Ultimately, helping your son or daughter develop skills through play-based activities should be fun. The activities should match his or her interests, and everyone should have a great time while working on them. While virtually any art or craft project works to help kids develop important life skills, here are a few great crafts for kids with autism:
Diamond art kits are great for kids–as well as adults–with autism. If you are not familiar with the craft, though, you may be wondering, what is diamond painting? In short, it is the art of creating beautiful images on a canvas using resin rhinestones rather than paint. This craft has taken the world by storm, and is similar to paint-by-numbers and cross-stitch.
Diamond painting is a great play-based creative activity for helping kids develop important life skills for a few reasons. For starters, the canvas is clearly labeled with symbols and codes which tell you exactly what color rhinestone needs to be placed where. This makes painting with diamonds a project anyone can successfully complete. Because the stones are small, using a tool to put them in the proper place can help kids with focus, patience, and build fine motor skills. This activity can also help children enhance their ability for color and shape recognition. In addition, diamond painting is a fantastic creative craft to do with other family members and friends so your child can learn about teamwork and collaboration.
Diamond art kits come in many different designs and sizes, too, making it possible to find something well-suited to any kid’s interests and skill level. After they’ve finished their painting, you can also frame it so your child can hang their artwork for all to see.
Sensory Art Using Paint
Sensory art is something many kids with autism enjoy and benefit greatly from. For those who avoid painting due to tactile defensiveness or simply because they don’t like getting messy, it is necessary to get a bit creative to make the experience enjoyable.
Chances are, you have all sorts of toys and household objects that can be used to make painting fun for your little one. One option for kids who don’t like getting their hands dirty involves either a box or a baking pan (with sides), paint, paper and marbles. Place the paper in the bottom of the box or pan. Then, add a few globs of paint to the paper. Put a few marbles inside the box and then encourage your child to tilt the box/pan from side to side to roll the marble through the paint.
Another option is placing a piece of paper inside a zippered plastic bag, adding a few globs of paint and then zipping the bag closed. Your child can then move the paint around the paper by pressing the outside of the bag. Think of it as fingerpainting without the mess! This project allows your child to explore how different colors combine to form other colors. Many also love the way the paint feels through the bag.
When it comes to painting, using a brush is by no means mandatory. Get creative and you will surely come up with unique ways for your son or daughter to experience the joy of painting in his or her own way.
Contact Paper Shapes
Contact paper provides plenty of skill-building opportunities. Your child can practice cutting and ripping it into various shapes and then using those shapes to create a design. Transparent contact paper in multiple colors can be used to create a design reminiscent of stained glass. Layering different colors teaches kids about color mixing, too.
Making shapes and designs with contact paper is a project that can be repeated throughout the year. In the spring, use pastel colors to create cute decorations appropriate for this time of year. In the summer, use red, white and blue to make patriotic décor. Oranges, browns and yellows are perfect for fall, while red and green or shades of blue work well during the winter months. You can use this as an opportunity to teach your child a bit about color theory and the reasons behind why certain colors are associated with specific holidays or times of the year.
Paper Plate Crafts
You may think of them as a convenient way of getting out of doing the dishes, but paper plates can be so much more! They form the foundation for a wide range of different projects and can be transformed into all sorts of things. From caterpillars to rainbows to hats, paper plates can be turned into just about anything.
If you are looking for an easy and inexpensive way to unleash your daughter or son’s creativity, give him or her a few white paper plates, some markers or paint and glue–and watch them go. You might be surprised at just what your kid comes up with when crafting with simple paper plates.
Creating works of art using sand exposes your kid to a new sensory and textural experience. Using non-toxic art sand or homemade edible “sand” (instructions below) and transparent bottles, your toddler or tween can experiment with pouring and mixing various colors to create unique layered designs. That’s right, this is a great craft for children of all ages.
Another option requires construction paper, glue and a disposable aluminum pan. Lay the construction paper in the bottom of your pan and then have your child “draw” shapes or designs on the paper using glue. Alternatively, you can draw the shapes and encourage them to identify them. Before the glue dries, help them pour some sand into the pan. Finally, have your kid gently tilt and move the pan from side to side until the glue is covered.
If your daughter or son has a habit of tasting things, consider making edible sand rather than using art sand. You can do this by pouring a generous amount of salt into a zippered plastic bag and adding a few drops of liquid food coloring. Knead until the “sand” is all mixed up and evenly colored. Keep an eye to make sure they don’t eat too much “sand” while they play.
There aren’t many kids who don’t love slime these days. Playing with slime is a fun sensory project that can help your toddler or tween build various expertise.
To get started, you will need eight ounces of white glue, a cup of room temperature water, five cups of warm water, a teaspoon of borax and lots of glitter. You’ll also need a large and a small mixing bowl, a cooking spoon and a zippered plastic bag.
Start by helping your son or daughter add the glue and room temperature water to the large mixing bowl. Mix well. Then, help them pour the warm water and borax into the smaller bowl. Once the borax has dissolved completely, have your kid carefully pour the borax water into the glue mixture and stir for about five minutes. Last comes the most fun part of all: adding the glitter!
When the slime is ready, let your child play with it. If they have issues with certain textures, they may not like the stickiness on their hands. In this case, you may want to put it in a zippered plastic bag so they can enjoy the slime without the stickiness.
Homemade Musical Instruments
If you’d like to help your daughter or son develop motor and cognitive abilities and have an awesome auditory experience, making musical instruments is a great option. Everyday household items can be used to create fun instruments that will provide your kid with different types of auditory feedback.
If you have dry pasta, beans, rice, beads, aluminum foil, cardboard tubes and rubber bands, you have everything you need to get started. When it comes to making instruments, the possibilities are virtually limitless. And no matter what you make, your child will gain a knack for music while making and playing with their creation. Here are a few DIY instrument ideas to get you started!
Making edible playdough is a project that will engage nearly all of the five senses. Working with the finished dough is also a great way to inspire their creativity and help them build motor skills. Making edible playdough requires ingredients you likely already have in your cupboard, and the overall project is simple.
You can find the instructions for whipping up a batch of edible playdough here. If you’d like to take this recipe to the next level, though, try adding a packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid for flavor and color.
Sensory bottles have multiple functions for autistic children. They can be used to aid with self-regulation and to help kids calm down, or they can provide visual stimulation that meets their unique needs. Eye-spy sensory bottles are great, too, as they provide a fun activity for kids with autism.
Bottles can be filled up with nearly anything, and they are as fun to make as they are to play with. Have your son or daughter help with picking out what to include in the bottle and filling it up. When they’re finished, carefully glue the lid in place to ensure the bottle won’t leak. Check out this guide for some ideas on what to fill your child’s sensory bottles with.
Make Learning Fun
Doing arts and crafts is a great way to engage autistic children and help them learn important lessons and techniques through play. The crafts for kids with autism listed above are just a few of the many great projects you can work on with your son or daughter. Plan activities that suit his or her interests, as well as their attention span. This is why diamond painting is an especially strong choice, for canvases come in an endless amount of designs and sizes which allow kids to showcase their artistic side and the finished project once completed. Plus, after they finalize and frame their diamont art painting, you can order another kit for your son or daughter to start that donns another one of his or her interests, so the fun never ends!
Remember, the process is much more important than the finished product. Start with a small, simple project and build from there. Maintain a positive, upbeat attitude and be sure to praise your kid along the way. Most importantly, have fun! The more enjoyable the project is, the more your child will learn.