Swimming, Baseball, and Boy Scouts are just a few activities for children, including those with special needs to participate in during the year. For children on the Autism Spectrum, it can be very easy to know what they prefer and what they do not prefer. However, it can be difficult to get them to try new and different things. Picture this scenario: you’re at a baseball practice for the first time your kid refuses to participate and is on the ground crying and kicking. Should you flee and never return to baseball because of their episode or should you try to push for participation?
Step 1: Preference Assessment
Before choosing a sport or activity for your child with Autism, pay attention to what they are naturally drawn to. This is called a preference assessment. A preference assessment is where you observe the child and what they choose to interact with to gauge what their reinforcers are. There are several ways to conduct a preference assessment to see what your child enjoys, but a natural/free operant preference assessment is the easiest to conduct because you can just observe your child in the natural environment to see what they gravitate towards and time (take duration data) on how long they play with each item. The item they go to and the amount of time they spend with the activity could give you an idea of where to start with an activity.
Step 2: Ask questions
Once you have an idea of what they’re interested in, enroll them in that activity and request as much information as you can on the location, the coach/adults information and what basic skills they’ll need to have. This will help you to be able to build visuals and practice the routine beforehand.
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Buy the equipment you need ahead of time and practice wearing the uniform for weeks beforehand. Try to take trips to the location of where the activity will take place. Read a social story to help your child prepare for the activity. Create a playdate with children who are also enrolled in the activity to help your child engage with them before so they can gain social skills and comfortability with their peers. All of these suggestions will help your child to be more successful and prepared for the activity at hand.
Step 4: Address behaviors as they occur
When your child engages in a behavior during the activity, remember the functions of behavior and address each one as they occur. It may take several weeks for your child to feel comfortable with the crowd and the task at hand but doing something that interests them and having an opportunity to engage with peers and new adults is vital for their development.
Fostering a growth mindset in neurotypical kids can be important for them to grow in independence and initiate new experiences but for those with Autism it can be even more crucial. By following the steps above, your child, you, and the rest of your family will feel more confident in the new activity while gaining new skills that are important in life. Stay confident, collected and rally your support team for any endeavor and you’ll be sure to feel accomplished with having your child try something new.