Children with autism demonstrate a range of cognitive, motor and language abilities, sensory preferences, and interests or aversions. When you are considering how best to engage your child with autism in play-based activities, always keep their individual needs and interests in mind.

Occupational therapists will often “scaffold” activities to help children build their skills for learning rather than become frustrated by difficult tasks. We often refer to this as a “just-right challenge.”

This resource from Kids Matter explains how parents can offer similar supports at home by trying the following:

Prompt children to extend their thinking – explore other ways of solving problems or approaching tasks

Ask children to explain the steps – try letting the child direct the activity or select the materials needed to complete the task


Break activities into smaller steps

Give prompts – there are many ways to prompt your child through an activity. For more information on prompting, check out this article from Special Learning, Inc.

Be positive! Praise your child’s efforts along the way because every level of participation matters and builds skills.


For children who are interested in sensory-based play or whose level of engagement and participation improves when there is a sensory component to the activity, these fun sensory art ideas will be a huge hit at home!


For children who dislike getting messy or avoid painting because of tactile defensiveness, try encouraging creativity by using household objects and toys in new ways – baking trays, straws, sponges, marbles, spice shakers, q-tips – change up your painting tools for a different experience every time!

Here are our favorite out-of-the-box ways to create with paint: marble run painting
  1. Marble Run Painting: Put blank paper into the lid of a box or baking tray, add a glob of your paint color (choose 1 at a time or add a few!) and a marble or two. Tilt the box/tray to move the marble through the paint and watch the kaleidoscope of colors emerge across the paper.
  2. Q-Tip Details:  Using a Q-tip to apply paint in controlled dots, lines, or squiggles is a great way to develop fine motor skills while also limiting the “mess.” Depending on the level of creativity or independent drawing skills your child has, consider adding a background picture and use the Q-tip paint to add details to familiar shapes, landscapes, or people.
  3. Paint in a Bag: Similarly, to the sensory bag, children with significant tactile defensiveness are more apt to engage with this painting activity because the mess is all contained inside a Ziploc-type bag. Put a blank piece of paper inside of the bag, add a few drops of color, and zip the bag closed. By pushing on the outside of the bag, your child can move the paint around and explore with mixing colors to decorate a kaleidoscope on the canvas.
  4. Stamping: Look around the house and see what you could use as a stamp – cut an apple or potato in half to stamp a unique shape, repurpose those Duplo Legos, or cut a kitchen sponge into shapes big and small.
  5. Blow-Paint: They actually sell blow paints for kids, but they require a lot of forceful breath that may be difficult for some kids to coordinate. Create your own “blow” paint activity by breathing through a straw to move the paint across the page. Can you blow the paint inside the shape of a balloon? To add colorful details to a picture already drawn? or to make your own free-form designs?


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