Arts and crafts projects provide a multitude of skill-building opportunities for all kids, including those with autism spectrum disorders. In fact, occupational therapists (OTs) who work with children with physical, sensory, or cognitive differences, commonly use enjoyable projects to help their patients gain and sharpen skills in a fun way. Keeping kids engaged during challenging therapy sessions can be tough and OTs know that getting children to participate through play is the best way to keep them motivated and focused. Since arts and crafts projects are some of the most effective forms of creative play when it comes to helping kids build both life skills and fine motor skills, therapists often turn to them first. In addition, working on art activities together can help your son or daughter develop their social skills..
As a parent, you too can help your child build confidence and skills by engaging with them in different activities. From creating diamond paintings to making DIY sensory bottles, there are all sorts of craft projects you can work on with your son or daughter to help them strengthen valuable skill sets. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience with arts and crafts, there are many projects that are relatively easy to do. They may even help you uncover a previously unexplored passion for crafting. Keep reading to discover some fun projects you and your child can enjoy doing together!
Choosing the Right Art Project(s) to Work on with Your Child with Autism
Autism exists on a broad spectrum. As a result, autistic children have a wide range of language, motor and cognitive capabilities depending on where they fall on that continuum. Just like any other young person, they also have varying interests, sensory preferences and aversions. As a parent, it is important to recognize your child’s unique strengths, challenges and preferences, and consider them when choosing arts and crafts 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. Remember, whether they are on the autism spectrum or not, if kids don’t see the project as fun or if it’s too complicated, it isn’t likely to engage them and could lead to aggravation rather than an enjoyable DIY experience.
Occupational therapists strive to help kids with autism slowly develop their 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 frustrated or overwhelmed.
You can use this technique at home, too. Make skill-building, sensory 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. If they struggle with this, be sure to provide guidance so they don’t become discouraged.
- Breaking large projects down into smaller, more manageable steps.
- Demonstrating how to do things they are struggling with.
- Prompting your child through the project. Verbal and visual cues combined with modeling and physical guidance will help your child stay on track.
- Maintaining a positive, supportive attitude. Remind yourself to be patient to ensure an enjoyable arts and crafts experience for your son or daughter.
Ultimately, helping autistic children develop their skills through play-based activities should be fun. As long as the activities match the child’s interests, everyone should have a great time while working on them. It’s also important toapproach arts and crafts with the mindset that projects don’t need to turn out perfectly. Instead, think of them as a beneficial form of sensory play. While virtually any art or craft project works to help kids develop important life skills, here are a few great crafts that work especially well 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, mosaic images on a canvas using resin rhinestones rather than paint. This craft, which is similar to paint-by-numbers and cross-stitch, has taken the world by storm.
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 improve their focus, patience and build fine motor skills. This activity can also enhance children's ability to recognize colors and shapes. In addition, diamond painting is a fantastic, creative craft to do with other family members and friends, which can facilitate growth in children around teamwork and collaboration.
Painting with diamonds is an excellent form of sensory art, too. Your child will likely enjoy feeling the diamonds, seeing them sparkle in the light and hearing them click into place on the canvas.
Diamond art kits come in many different designs and sizes, too, making it possible to find something well-suited to any young person’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 and admire.
Sensory Art Using Paint
Sensory art is something many kids on the autism spectrum enjoy and benefit greatly from. For those who avoid painting, especially finger painting, due to tactile defensiveness or simply because they don’t like getting messy, you might need to get a bit creative in order to make the experience enjoyable, but it’s still doable and worthwhile!
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 using either a cardboard box or a baking pan (with sides). Get together some different colors of paint, paper and marbles. Next, place the paper on the bottom of the box or pan. Then, add a few globs of different colors of paint to the paper. Finally, put a couple marbles inside the box and encourage your child to tilt the box/pan from side to side. Rolling the marbles through the paint enables them to create an amazingly colorful and exciting, abstract artwork on the paper.
Another option is placing a piece of paper inside a larger, 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 on 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. Of course, if you have an older child who has expressed an interest in painting, by all means, give them a paintbrush, watercolor or acrylic paint and canvas and let their imagination take over! 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, typically purchased for shelf or drawer lining, can also provide lots of skill-building opportunities when used in arts and crafts projects. Your child can practice cutting and ripping it into various shapes and then peel off the backing and use 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 and white 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 Art Projects
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. Add in other crafting materials like yarn, feathers, beads etc. depending on your child’s interests and abilites. 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. Older kids and teens may even enjoy creating sand art in tiny bottles they can wear as necklaces. That’s right — this is a great craft for children of all ages and is neurodiverse friendly!
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. One way you can do this is 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. If you are not able to use salt, there are a number of other recipes you can find online that use different key ingredients. Just be sure to keep an eye on the kiddos so they don’t eat too much “sand” while they play.
There aren’t many kids who don’t love slime these days. And playing with slime is a fun sensory project that can help your autistic youngster build various expertise.
To get started on this fun sensory art project, 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. You may also want some food coloring, but this is totally optional.
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 child 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! You can also add food coloring at this time too, if your child would like their slime to be a bit more vibrant.
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
Another sensory craft that can 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 while helping them build fine motor skills and discover new ways to express themself.
If you have dry pasta, beans, rice, beads, aluminum foil, cardboard tubes and rubber bands, you have everything you need to get started. You can even turn those ever-useful paper plates into a DIY guitar with the addition of a few rubber bands.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!
Edible Play Dough
Making edible play dough is a project that will engage nearly all of your autistic child’s senses. Working with the finished dough is also a great way to inspire their creativity and help them build motor skills. Making edible play dough requires ingredients you likely already have in your cupboard — including flour, table salt and cream of tartar — and the overall project is simple.
You can find the instructions for whipping up a batch of edible play dough here. If you’d like to take this recipe to the next level, try adding a packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid for flavor and color. Using a bit of food coloring works to dye the dough, too. Just be sure to mix it into the water so you can blend it easily without staining your hands.
Sensory bottles serve multiple functions for autistic children, and they are a popular option for parents and therapists who want to engage kids in sensory play. They can be used to meet the unique needs of those on the autism spectrum, aiding with self-regulation and helping kids calm down, as well as providing visual stimulation. Eye-spy sensory bottles are great, too, as they provide an engaging and fun art 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 with Arts and Crafts for Kids with Autism
Doing arts and crafts is a great way to engage autistic children and help them learn important lessons and techniques through sensory play. The crafts listed above are just a few of the many great projects you can work on with your son or daughter, whether they are neurodiverse, on the autism spectrum, or have other special needs. Planning activities that suit his or her interests, as well as their attention span will help make it a positive experience for all involved. And, since diamond painting canvases come in an endless number of designs and sizes, they make a particularly good choice. Kids get to choose an image they know they will like working on and that they can display once completed, showcasing their artistic side. Plus, after they finsh and frame their diamond art painting, you can order another kit for your son or daughter to start that captures another one of his or her interests, so the fun never has to end!
It’s also good to remind yourself that, 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 include lots of praise along the way. Most importantly, have fun! The more enjoyable the project is, the more your child can learn.