Autism-Friendly Summer Holiday Activities

We’re two weeks into the summer holidays.

I’ll admit, in the build up to the holidays I massively slightly dreaded the thought of having to entertain the boys for over six weeks without any school or nursery for respite.  Whilst I do allow rather a lot of screen time, I obviously need to limit it to some extent and between the cubs’ autism and mine I have to think about all sorts of things involved in any given activity (duration, level of concentration, how noisy it might be, whether there are any other sensory concerns etc.).

Some days we keep things pretty low key with a bit of play in the garden mixed in with screen time and general games but I have been making a bit of an effort to do bits and pieces I wouldn’t so much during term time to keep the cubs occupied.

There’s absolutely no reason the following activities can’t be used for neurotypical children but I thought they might be more specifically helpful for parents of autistic children (or autistic parents).


Treasure hunt

Bear has a fascination with small containers and is particularly fond of a couple of small plastic treasure chests.  He likes to ‘hide’ them for me to find, which inspired me to attempt a treasure hunt.

I’ll admit my efforts didn’t really work well in the end but I think it could be adapted to be better.  I cut some rough circles out of card and covered them with tin foil for some pirate treasure and drew a rather…umm…unpolished map of the garden.

One mistake I made was not drawing a map each; do not make this mistake!

I hid pirate loot in a few places round the garden and added Xs on the map to correspond to the hiding place.

However, Bear was too young to be able to read the map and Tyger just wanted to run off to find the spot he’d seen me hiding something earlier…

If I did it again, I think I’d have removable Xs (a couple of red paper rectangles stuck together to make an X would easy to fashion and then a small blob of blu-tak) and possibly alternate between me hiding coins for the boys and sticking the X on and then them having a turn.

I’d also advise anyone doing this to stick with a small space.  The entire garden here was just too much for them to search and made the map too difficult for them to read.  A smaller, more detailed map might have been better.


Park Picnic

The park is an obvious option during holidays but that can mean it’s often busy and autistic children don’t always deal well with crowds.  Tyger loves it when there are other children around but Bear can struggle and, to be honest, so do I.

I have found going when other people are less likely to be there works well.  Taking the boys over a meal time and just bringing lunch/dinner as a little picnic to have there means the park tends to be quieter and it makes that mealtime a little more fun for the boys.  Going when it’s overcast or windy also tends to mean fewer people there and if you’re particularly close to a park even popping there between showers on a rainy day can work well if you pack a small towel to dry off the equipment.



This has been the biggest hit of all the activities I’ve done with the cubs recently.

The boys have a water tray and we have various paddling pools but, despite how much they (especially Tyger) enjoy pouring water into and out of containers in the bath, I’d never really thought to set up a station in the garden for pouring/mixing until it was suggested by a friend.

It’s very common for autistic children to love playing with water.  It has many pleasing sensory qualities.  However, lots of children with autism also dislike their clothes getting wet so this might be something best saved for a warm day with minimal (if any) clothes if that’s the case.

I ended up buying a set of six food dyes and mixing them with water and washing up liquid to make various containers full of coloured, bubbly water.  I went for a mix of tubs, jugs, empty bottles and washing basins and also gave the boys a few spoons, whisks, a ladle etc. to play with but you can really use all sorts depending on what you have lurking in your cupboards.

Tyger particularly enjoyed slowly adding the different colours to the big basin and mixing them together to make his ‘potion’.  He complained it just smelt of washing up liquid/water so I suggested he pick some mint leaves to add as well, which he diligently did.

This idea kept Tyger busy for much, much longer than most other activities.  There’s room for a lot of variation depending on what you happen to have to hand.  You could use: glitter, essential oils/vanilla essence etc., bits and pieces from around the garden (leaves, twigs, stones, flowers), shaving foam…anything and everything, really.

Just accept water will get everywhere and – if you’re anything like me – your hands will end up covered in food dye.


Make ‘YouTube’ Videos

I know from talking to other parents of autistic children (and NT children, for that matter) that my cubs aren’t the only ones who love those videos on YouTube of other kids (and sometimes even adults) opening various ‘surprise’ toys.  There are now many plastic eggs and tubs and bags with various collectible toys inside but you only know which toy’s in there once you open it.

These are some of the toys the cubs have had from such packs.

Many entire YouTube channels are dedicated to opening these things on camera and then…nope, that’s it.  Kids all over the world seem to have gone mad for these videos and autistic children particularly like them (I suspect there several reasons for this including the definite and predictable routine, the collecting aspect and the fact these things often link in to some bigger obsession like a specific TV show).

At the start of the holidays Tyger asked if we could make a video of him doing the same and, whilst I wasn’t keen on the idea of actually putting the video on YouTube, I didn’t think there was a problem with making a video just to show friends and family.

So, I treated the boys to selection of ‘blind bag’ style toys (they are often a little on the expensive side for the quality of toys inside but I don’t mind that every now and then).

We shot the video on my phone: nothing fancy.  I simply paused whenever it seemed necessary (like when we needed scissors) rather than having to figure out how to edit the video afterwards.  I let Tyger take charge but gently steered him back on course or prompted Bear to start opening the next thing when needed.

The main ‘tip’ I’d give based on our experience is if your phone is brand new and you’ve never filmed anything with it before maybe have a little 10 second practice beforehand so you don’t suddenly realise you’re not actually recording about a minute into the video… (Tyger was thankfully a good sport about it).



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1 Comment

  1. These are great ideas – mine would all have liked doing this stuff when they were little. My autistic son would have loved the water trays and I’m kicking myself for having never thought of it back then. I used to cover the floor with lining paper and strip the kids down to an old pair of pants and let them paint the entire floor in bright colours – it was messy and we did it on hot days and hosed them down in the garden afterwards. They loved it! #spectrumsunday


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