Leisure is one of the areas we sometimes forget when thinking of meaningful intervention programs. We get focused on teaching all of the other good stuff like requesting, self-care, and engaging in conversation. But think about some of the best times in your life – they were probably when you were doing something you love! I know I’m always happy when I’m outside hiking with my dog, going to a yoga class, or reading a really great book.
Developing leisure skills can be a tricky endeavor for individuals with autism. They might get stuck on one activity or they might not have any leisure interests at all. Don’t worry, like any other skill, leisure skills can be learned.
Leisure skills don’t just give our day-to-day lives more meaning and enjoyment, they also open the door for increased social interaction. Video-gaming can lead to joining game clubs or going to conventions where you might meet like-minded individuals. An interest in LEGOs can provide an “in” for playing with other students in class, going to LEGO summer camp, or working cooperatively with others. Whatever the interest, chances are you can find a group of people who share it!
How to teach leisure skills
Leisure skills are just like any other skills; when teaching them, we might need to break it down for individuals we support. For example, to teach a simple card game, you might have to model how to do it, incorporate visuals such as picture cues, or provide step-by-step, written directions. Depending on the age and ability level of the individual, you can teach activities such as drawing, catching or rolling a ball, playing a board game, or engaging in physical activities such as bowling, swimming, or team sports.
What if the individual struggles to participate? First, try offering choices instead of yes/no questions. For example, instead of asking “Do you want to play Uno?” say “Which one, Uno or drawing?” Additionally, providing structure and establishing a clear beginning and end with a timer or visual schedule can help the individual feel more comfortable and decrease anxiety.
You can also teach new activities by pairing them with a current interest. For example, if the individual loves farm animals, introduce drawing with a coloring book of farm animals or do a word search with names of farm animals. An individual who loves anything technology-related might enjoy using a geocache app on their phone to locate hidden treasures at a nearby park.
The key to teaching leisure activities is to make them enjoyable and predictable. Individuals have their own distinct preferences and personalities. It’s important to teach a variety of skills, but if they don’t enjoy something after learning how to do it, you can move on and try something else.
Make it age-appropriate
One thing it’s important to keep in mind is that age-appropriate interests open the door to social interactions with peers. When thinking of activities to teach the individual, consider choosing activities engaged in by peers of a similar age. Think about the skills that the individual might need to engage in those activities.
For example, elementary-age children might engage in dress-up activities, dolls, LEGOs, puzzles, coloring, playing ball, going to the park, or playing cooperative games like tag and hide-n-seek. Teenagers and young adults might enjoy listening to music, watching movies, reading books, playing board games, engaging in team sports or solitary exercise such as hiking, biking, or dance. It’s okay if you have to modify an activity depending on the needs of the individual. Try to find aspects of the activity that they may be successful in and start there!
Ideas for leisure interests
- Crafts, photography, reading, drawing, painting
- Cooking , gardening, geocaching, volunteering
- Exercise, yoga, swimming, basketball, running, bike riding, karate, bowling
- Board games, jigsaw puzzles, LEGOs, word search puzzles, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, card games
Lindsey Schumacher, LPA, BCBA, is a member of ASNC’s Clinical Department in the Triangle region and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and evidence-based practices in instruction for K-12 students with autism.
To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or email@example.com.
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