Activities for Children with Autism in the Classroom

During essential formative early years, children’s minds are developing at an incredible rate. The classroom is an environment where children can learn and practice communication, teamwork, and friendship skills with their peers among other motor skills and practical lessons. 

Primary and preschool autism classroom activities should focus on supporting and encouraging actions like pretend play, sensory exploration, and basic fundamentals of verbal and non-verbal communication with teachers and peers. As a teacher or teaching assistant supporting children or children with SEN, try out some of these ideas as starting points, allowing the children to approach things at their own pace.

Pretend Play

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often struggle to grasp pretend play skills with the same readiness as other children. Providing a structure for pretend play to helps them to consider ways to engage with imaginative ideas, offering a ‘seed’ from which a whole pretend play game can grow.

Pretend play assists children with ASD to practice communication and playing with others, but it’s also a useful way to approach ‘real life’ concepts in a new way that can make them easier to understand. For example, early years imaginative role play involving a visit to the doctor can allow children to work through potentially stressful situations they might encounter in a real doctors office. 


Small World Classroom Activities for Children with Autism

Build structures like cities, racecourses, forests, and airports. Encouraging children in small world play around a particular interest or theme relevant to them will help to retain their attention and build on existing confidence. Classroom activities for autistic children that incorporate imaginary play offer flexibility that suits the individual best and gives teachers and TAs an insight into how each child prefers to learn. 

The WePlay Brick Me 45 piece set is a good example of a building set that challenges children on a larger scale, with bigger, lightweight blocks that slot together like Lego bricks. 



Start a Mud Kitchen Cafe

Mud kitchen messy play allows kids the freedom of getting messy without the need to worry about damaging furnishings. Letting children manipulate mud, sand, and water (along with any other outdoor materials that get involved) gives them an unlimited supply of possibilities for a make-believe kitchen, cafe, or even science lab. Activities for autistic children at school should offer different ways for them to approach ideas, tasks, and problems, and the flexibility of a mud kitchen does just that. 

‘Managing’ a mud kitchen cafe has a wealth of imaginary possibilities for children to run away with such as what sorts of food and drinks they will serve, how they’ll work in the kitchen (what roles are given to whom, when each task is done, etc), what types of customers come and what they order. Make a mud kitchen game even more immersive with special mud kitchen accessories like utensils and pretend food.



Teamwork and Bond-Building

Children with ASD will spend more time in one-to-one teaching or precision teaching sessions than others, so it’s important that time is committed for them to work with their peers and other adults to support the development of healthy friendships and bonds. Teamwork allows children with ASD to develop an understanding of key social interactions like sharing.

Another aspect of teamwork and bond-building is joint experience. Joint experience, the ability to share experiences with another person, is something that children with ASD are found to be lacking in, as found by the Royal Society of Biology Sciences. Joint experience is not only a skill needed for success in life, but for fundamental enjoyment. 

Circle time is a good opportunity to introduce activities that promote joint experience. Circle time activities for autistic children in the classroom allow them to be present with one another and their teacher in a comfortable setting, looking at each other and taking in expressions and non-verbal cues. Movement and actions can be used to express feelings and thoughts during circle time, all of which can help children with ASD.

Find ideas for circle time activities for primary school children in our blog post. We’ve also covered friendship building activities that could be incorporated into lessons. 

Board Games

Sharing, taking turns, and following rules are skills that children can learn from board games. These are skills that children with ASD generally find more difficult than those without. Setting out clear boundaries for taking turns, sharing, and following rules provides a space in which these skills can be formally addressed and practised—and board games provide just that situation. A game such as Bullies, Victims & Bystanders offers an additional level of social education addressing topics that help children think about how to behave towards one another and their peers.



Fidget Toys

Fidget toys are useful tools to help calm emotions and reduce anxiety. A fidget toy should provide a unique tactile experience that gives the child time to focus quietly without pressure. But sensory toys are also a useful tool for instigating sharing situations. You might want to bring in a new toy to play with and take a turn playing with it, then pass it around for others to have a go at. Learning about taking turns with a new desirable toy will help children with ASD understand that sharing doesn’t mean they will lose the toy forever and that others want to take a turn as much as them. 



Sensory Activities

Sensory challenges are an everyday difficulty for children with ASD. Feelings and thoughts as well as visual, tactile, auditory, and taste inputs can present an overload of information that is difficult to understand and categorise. As they get older, children with ASD will learn to manage sensory input, but exposure to different types of stimuli during early years can help to move this development along. Autism-friendly sensory activities and lessons can contribute to significantly less stressful learning experiences.

Messy Play School Activities for Children with Autism

Messy play is a good starting point for sensory play, offering a highly flexible format for sensory exploration. Messy play can be as basic as handing out tuff trays filled with different coloured hand paints, or as complex as leading a science experiment. Tuff trays offer a way to provide controlled independence over play as each child can have autonomy over their messy play container. A Messy Play Tub Set like this one is ideal for providing each child with their own messy play space while promoting communal play and learning. 


You could take water play to a whole new level with a colour-changing illuminated sensory mood table that lights up with different colours using a remote control, creating a whole new water environment each time.  



Get inspired by more creative messy play tuff tray ideas in our blog. 

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor school activities for autistic children play a role in building teamwork and confidence as well as spatial awareness and coordination. A playground is also a good place for after school activities for autistic children where running around and having space and time to themselves provides a clear divide between classroom time and after school time. Choose outdoor activities that are flexible and offer different opportunities and approaches. Investing in some playground equipment that can be used as props to help the flow of imaginative play is a good way to motivate children to play together.

Outdoor playground equipment should offer places of shelter or exploration that bring together groups for communal play. A school gazebo offers space to sit down under a roof that can be used at break time. A climbing frame or obstacle course like this fire engine gym boosts imagination and gets little ones practising climbing, navigating objects, and letting off steam.  


Classroom activities

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published