Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of developmental conditions that affect how an individual perceives the world and interacts with others.

If your child has ASD they may have difficulty making sense of the world. ASD will affect each child differently. Your child may find it difficult to deal with changes to routines and may become obsessed with certain objects, actions or activities. Your child may not be able to express themselves with language and may use alternative ways of communication (sign language, pictures). Your child may also experience sensory difficulties (they may be highly sensitive to touch, sound or smells).

The three main areas of difficulty are known as the triad of impairments. These are difficulties in:

  • social communication
  • social interaction
  • social imagination and flexible thinking.

(Definition from Education Scotland website)

Ways to support a child with ASD:

  • Use simple language.
  • Be literal (for example, don’t use idioms such as ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’).
  • Give clear, step by step instructions, in order of occurrence, with language as simplified as possible.
  • If you need to repeat an instruction, try to give 10 seconds processing time before repetition in same words
  • Have your child repeat instructions in own words / to others
  • Keep routines consistent. Many children with autism benefit from structure and routine. Make a pictorial/visual timetable or task list. You could decide together how to build your daily timetable, with time for snacks and play included.
  • Give plenty of warning about any change. This includes when you would like to end or change activities. Give 5 minute warning before requesting change to occur.
  • Use visual cues (pictures or objects) to help communication and understanding.
  • Use think time – encourage your child to think for 30seconds to consider their answer before responding
  • Identify triggers (the things which seem to cause outbursts / strong reactions) and work out solutions.
  • use the same game or strategy for multiple ideas – Use of repetitive learning structures helps to prevent overloading working memory and creating lost learning.
  • Try to include Brain breaks – every 30-45 minutes, or whenever children’s attention starts to wane, take a short break. GoNoodle is a great resource for this, with many short activities.
  • Make use of mind maps, diagrams, frames, tables to organise information.
  • Children with ASD can benefit from Multisensory Learning:
    • kinaesthetic learning resources including playdough, finger tracing, stamps, sticker stories, tactile letters & materials;
    • Movement involved in learning including scoot games, write the room, scavenger hunt, learning walks;
    • visual learning to be paired with with auditory processing

Websites and Resources for Parents

Guide to apps for android users

Guide to apps for ipad users

Activities for children with ASD

Sensory Activities

Sensory activities can be an effective way to improve your child’s attention span, develop communication skills and reduce anxiety. As sensory sensitivity varies greatly, please consider your child’s triggers and adjust activities as appropriate.

1. Make a Sensory Bottle: Fill an old plastic bottle with a mix of water, glitter and a few drops of food colouring to create a fun, calming toy. Drop in a few buttons or marbles and then seal the lid tightly using a hot glue gun or duct tape. This activity is a really simple way to help your kid learn to engage and stay focused, and the sensory bottle can be used to promote feelings of relaxation and calm.

2. Snack Sorting: Gather a plate of food that has a variety of different shapes, colours, textures, or sizes. Make sure they wash their hands for at least 20seconds with hot soapy water before handling food. Ask them to sort the food by colour, shape, or another characteristic. You can also use them to develop numeracy skills like counting, addition, subtraction, or dividing in to equal groups. The best part of this task is being able to eat the snacks when you answer correctly!

3 Texture Rubbing: Simply gather up a few items such as leaves, coins, wood or bark etc. Place a sheet of paper over the top and use crayons to ‘rub’ a colourful pattern into the paper. This activity further develops their knowledge of pattern and texture while supporting development of hand –eye coordination.

4. Create a Sensory Collage: Make a tactile collage with a small selection of materials with different textures, such as  foil, glitter, fabric and magazine clippings. This can help develop tolerance of change in textures.

5. Create your own stamper: This activity is multi-sensory and can be used to develop understanding of shape, colour, texture and pattern. Stampers can be made from vegetables such as peppers or potatoes. Try dipping the item in to paint as it is and press against paper to see what effect it creates. Then cut or press a variety of shapes or patterns in to the object. Your child may require help to safely cut shapes or patterns in to the materials. Clay, tinfoil and corks can be used to create more advanced stampers. Discuss the effects created with your child, modelling relevant vocabulary as needed.

6. Make your own Slime experiments: Not only is slime very popular with children, it can be a great sensory activity. There are a variety of slime tutorials on the internet, such as

7 The Smelling Game: Fill a selection of small containers (old, painted, jam jars work best) with a mix of fragrant ingredients such as lavender, coffee or soap. Place a seal over the top using a piece of fabric and a rubber band and then ask your child to identify the different smells. You can also use a blindfold for an added level of difficulty. This activity encourages development of vocabulary and communication skills.


Calming Activities

When a child with ASD becomes overstimulated, their emotional response can be intense and overwhelming for them. These activities can help de-escalate stressful situations and enable them to calm down and refocus.

  1. Grounding Techniques
  • 5 things you can see; 4 things you can feel; 3 things you can hear; 2 things you can smell; 1 good thing about yourself
  • Count to ten slowly, breathing out as you say each number and taking a deep breathe between each one.
  • Recite the alphabet using the same technique as above
  • Listen to a calming musical track and pay attention to what instruments you hear, naming them as they appear.
  • Look around the room and name all the objects you see that have the same colour or shape i.e. Name the yellow items you see or find the circles around you.
  • Try some simple yoga poses. Take time to feel where your body touches the floor and which muscles you can feel stretching. There are lots of great yoga for kids ideas online, such as Cosmic Yoga on Youtube.
  • Practise mindful breathing – Have your child lie down and place a ball or balloon on their upper stomach. With each breathe they can focus on the balloon raising and lowering.

2. Create a ‘Calm Down Area’

When a child with autism is overwhelmed, it’s important that they have a safe space they can retreat to where they can control sensory stimulation. Designate a corner or spot in the room and fill it with sensory items such as playdough or a sensory bottle, comfortable seating, and calming activities that students with autism could do on their own i.e. a small supply of building materials like Lego, familiar picture books, fidget toys, access to comforting music with headphones, a pillow or cuddly toy to hold. Discuss the Calm Down Area with your child and have them consider what helps them to feel calm. This will give them ownership of the technique and help them to feel in control. You can agree upon a time limit to spend in the area and use timers to help the child moderate their use if needed.