By : Gabrille Galto, MS, BCBA, NYS LBA

It is official. We are living through a pandemic and in a state of emergency. Most of us have never experienced anything like this before and are feeling overwhelmed. Many school districts have recently announced closures, some even for an indefinite amount of time to reduce any further exposure and spread of COVID-19. 

During this time many families are faced with a number of difficulties and challenges. For families with a child or children with Autism, school closures mean a reduction in additional support services received. How can you continue to provide a therapeutic learning environment? How can you maintain skills previously learned? And how can you entertain your child with autism?  

The answers to the questions above will be further discussed below with some ideas on various activities and strategies you can use at home to keep your child with autism entertained during this time. 

Please note: What is described below is not an exhaustive list and would not replace a current behavior intervention plan, or effective strategies already used within your home. I highly advise parents who currently have a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) working with their child to reach out for additional support, request the most updated copy of their child’s treatment plan and behavior intervention plan (BIP), and request services via Telehealth if available. If strategies within your BIP cannot be implemented for any reason (e.g., lack of materials), consult your BCBA® before attempting new techniques or strategies. 

Activity Schedules

Due to school closures children are home, some for an indefinite amount of time. How do you create structure and routines throughout the day to keep your child stimulated? 

Start by setting up an activity program for your child with autism. This can be done in a number of different ways, from simply writing a list of tasks/ activities on a piece of paper to printing pictures for your child as a visual aid. Present the activities clearly in a way that your child can understand that this will be his/her activity program. 

For children who have never used a visual schedule, you may have to prompt them through each activity and that is okay! The main goal is to have a clear picture of what to expect. Once an activity is completed either check off the task, cross it out, or remove the picture to indicate the activity is over. Point to the next activity, say exactly what is next (e.g., “Story time!”), then guide them or instruct them to the activity.  

What a scheduled day should include is routine regular times for bathing, eating, school/learning activities, and socialization. Maintaining a set time for sleep and bed time that you child is used to is highly recommended. Make sure to include required activities at predictable set times and room for flexibility for additional tasks and kid chosen activities. 


Materials you’ll need:

  1. White Board, chalk board, or a piece of paper
  2. Dry erase markers, chalk, pen or pencil, etc. 
  3. More crafty people can search for pictures of items/activities to print, and laminate and use Velcro to put onto a grid (see example below)! 

How to Set Up an Activity Schedule: 

  1. Write numbers 1 through 5 or number of activities desired (remember you can always create more than one schedule throughout the day). 
  2. Choose activities for the schedule: 
    • Write the activity, draw a picture, or use a picture to indicate the task/ activity on the schedule. 
    • Determine required tasks (e.g., school work, bathing, etc.).  
    • Include your child by having them choose an activity or choose the order of activities! Great way to gain some compliance! 
  3. Go over the schedule in easy language for your child.
  4. Start the activity.

Activity Ideas

Keeping kids busy is honestly a tough job in and of itself! How to entertain a child with autism is an even greater challenge. It is even harder when you have more than one child at home, especially that are different ages or do not get along, or if you have a child who does not have the skills to just play with his or her siblings. Either way all of the scenarios have their difficulties, and, of course, if you have kids that play, get along well, and keep themselves occupied, great! Amazing! But it is still important to ensure that there is a sense of structure within the day, learning is encountered, and skills continue to maintain and develop. 

As I noted earlier make sure to reach out to your BCBA® (if you have one) to discuss goals to target. I also suggest that if you have not received any school work from your child’s teacher to reach out regarding homeschooling. Both may be helpful in providing you with games, sensory projects, and other activities to keep your child with autism child busy and entertained while developing important skills.  

It may be tempting to simply hand over the iPad or put the T.V. on during the day, however children with Autism can have a difficult time once demands are then placed on them or told to turn off the device. This can become a very difficult issue, and working on a schedule at your own pace can help during this tough time. Maintaining expectations throughout the day will require your child to follow demands, work on transitioning, and engage in activities both parent lead and child lead. You want to balance the day with tasks that are less preferred with those that are preferred, gaining cooperation and creating learning opportunities within your child’s day to day schedule. 

Arts and Crafts Activities

  1. Playdough: Set up a playdough activity at a table with different shape cutters, plastic utensils, plastic containers, or other play-doh activities sets already in the home. Try a DIY playdough recipe if you do not have playdough in the home!   Your day’s activity can also include “Making Play-doh”! Both creating and playing with playdough are great sensory activities for children with autism. 
  2. Printable Arts and Crafts: Print out or create blank templates for kids to fill in with drawings or paint to keep your kids busy while expanding their imagination! Here are some fantastic printable art activities
  3. Finger Painting: If you have paint already, have an art and craft finger painting day! Make fun designs, allow for your child’s creativity, and encourage exploration with mixing colors together! Allow for kids to make handprints by painting their hands! This can also be a great sensory activity for those kids who love the texture of paint!
  4. Cut and Paste Activities: Take some colored paper and cut out easy shapes and designs for your child to paste and make different shapes or a picture scene. I provided some ideas below – you may want to get some more exciting ideas online! 
    • Butterfly – cut out the wings, body, antennas.
    • Snowman – 3 circles, triangle nose, circle eyes, buttons, hat.
    • Flower – long stem, circle, and flower petals.
    • House – square, rectangle, and triangle.   
  5. Water Fun: Place water toys or water-safe toys into the tub or large bin! Add some containers or plastic cups to pour with and if you have food coloring at home play around with making the water change colors by adding purple and blue or red and yellowing together! 

Turn Taking Activities:

  1. Find all your board games and bring them out for turn-taking with your child! Pick a game to play each day or every other day to include the whole family! 
  2. Play Charades with your child or children! Have them either help create different subjects or make it fun by teaming up and having them act out a card together! 
  3. Play I SPY by presenting clues to your child until the child either says the correct answer, points to, or even gives you the item you were providing clues for. If your child can give clues, have them take a turn! 

Pretend Play

Play pretend with your child to encourage imaginary play with and without others objects! Below are some ideas you can try, but adding additional ideas based on your child’s interests (such as acting out a scene from their favorite movie or game) will further motivate them. 

  1. Dress up as an explorer, hide a treasure somewhere in the home to find, and create a map to follow as you search for the missing treasure. 
  2. Pretend you are a dinosaur looking for food and roaring!
  3. Use blocks to create buildings and drive around the “city”, maybe incorporating directions to go to different stores and working on listener skills with prepositions! 
  4. Make an animal hospital and take all the stuffed animals or animal toys to help heal them from an injury or sickness. 
  5. Make a pretend restaurant! If you have pretend food and/or a play kitchen, create a restaurant, maybe make a menu to order from (some more arts and craft ideas), and have your child pretend to be a waiter and Chef! You can also make pretend money and have a price for different food items. At the end add up the total as a way to incorporate using everyday math! 

Go Outside

Yup, I said it! If you are not in quarantine because you have been told to do so due to testing positive or being in contact with anyone who has tested positive, making time to go outside is important for your child’s daily health. If you live in an area of concern please take the necessary precautions as needed. If you are in an area with less people outside in the streets or have a yard to play in, take time to go outside. Some things to do outside:

  1. Take a 5 – 15 minute walk! Whatever is appropriate for you and your family, but getting outside and staying active is important for our mental physical health. 
  2. Play catch with your child for a couple minutes, maybe bouncing the ball or kicking back and forth. 
  3. Simon Says – Go play outside!

Learning Opportunities

Lastly, below are some ideas and activities to include your child in that you may typically have not in the past or some simple learning activities to include as scheduled activity lessons. 

  1. Cooking: Include your child with a chosen meal or making brownies. This can include a child reading the instructions to physically prompting a child to pour in an ingredient with your help! I believe this can be individualized across many individuals and even can include an independent task such as write a list of what you need to make a sandwich then complete each step to working on having your child get ingredients when instructed! 
  2. Sorting: Sorting can be done with MANY things and within MANY activities. Maybe make a sorting activity with colored cotton balls, the Legos or all those hot wheel cars laying around. Sorting can be done if you have bins to sort toys into specific bins; for example, animals, cars, blocks and pretend food items. You can also include your child in sorting socks after the laundry is completed, as a sorting activity. 
  3. Table work: This can include working with your child one on one, or the child completing a worksheet or independent tasks. 
    1. Ask your BCBA® and/or teacher for a list of goals or materials to work on that is appropriate for your child. 
    2. For example: Work on sorting picture cards at the table, identifying pictures by selecting the corresponding card when given the function (i.e., what do you drink – selects water), and labeling items. These are simple examples of what you may consider but remember, you want to work on what is best for your child and their level of learning!
  4. Story Time: Select books to read to your child during the day and ask questions during or following the story.
    1. For early learners: Books with pictures you can have your child point to items s/he sees, have them label items and characters in the book, and respond to simple questions. 
    2. Next Level: For learners who may still be reading picture books but need to work on comprehension work on asking them questions such as what do you think will happen next? You can also try asking why questions. 
    3. Advanced: Have your learner read to you or if able to read on their own have then provide a summary of what happened in the book, who was in the story, etc. 
    4. Idea to consider – Put on an audiobook or story read on Youtube! Search #OperationStoryTime on Youtube for many of your favorite books read by the authors themselves! 
  5. Have a Dance Party: For learners who like to get up and move have set times for music and movement by putting on their favorite song and breaking out your best dance moves! Or you can also look into music and movement videos to dance along to with them!  
  6. Make an Obstacle Course: Place a pillow on the floor to jump over, a pretend balance beam using tape on the floor, have your child walk or move like an animal, toss a ball into a bin or basket to work on those motor skills!  Here are some more ideas:
    1. Hop like a frog
    2. Slither like a snake 
    3. Crab walk 
    4. Bear crawl
    5. Prance or gallop like a horse 
  7. Go to the Museum: Yes, you read that right! There are 12 museums that you can take a virtual tour of from your home! 


Here are some additional resources and materials you can use to entertain your child with autism child in a meaningful way: 

Note: Attentive Behavior Care takes no responsibility for the information contained within these links.

If you are interested in learning more about Attentive Behavior Care or how we can help, please contact us today!