Embedding Skill Building Activities into Daily Routines and Activities for Autistic Children - Autism Awareness

Embedding Skill Building Activities into Daily Routines and Activities for Autistic Children

The current COVID-19 situation has caused many programs, schools, preschools and daycares to temporarily close their doors. Services are also on hold such as occupational and speech therapy. This has caused many parents to feel anxious that their child may regress with their development. If parents are hoping for a diagnostic assessment, the additional wait times will be increased under the current circumstances. It can be hard to feel confident supporting a child’s special needs if you aren’t sure how to do this. Take heart, though, as there are easy ways to support skill development within daily routines and other activities. There is also the gift of time now to slow down and allow for a longer period to teach skills.

Let’s have a look at a few topics and explore ideas on how to keep those skills growing during service and school interruptions.

What skills can we work on with our autistic children while at home during the Coronavirus?

Body Awareness

Right and Left Discrimination

Knowing the left and right side is important to a child’s understand of where he is in a space and how the world is organized. There are 3 parts to this concept – the right/left of oneself, other individuals and objects. Many children with ASD are delayed in determining if they are right or left-handed. There is an above average number of people with autism who are left-handed.

Some daily activities to do to provide a right/left understanding are:

  • When reading a book, point out what side of the page a favorite character is drawn on
  • Show left and right sides of favorite objects (stuffed toys, cars, figurines)
  • During bath time, identify left and right sides of the body as you wash body parts
  • When getting dressed, ask for the child’s right or left foot to put a sock on. Do this with mittens before going outside. Say, “This is your left hand”.
  • When walking and holding a child’s hand, say what hand you are holding.
  • When the child is eating or drinking, say what hand he is using.
  • Sing songs that talk about left and right like “The Hokey Pokey”. You can also find Left and Right songs on You Tube, but sometimes these songs are sung too fast to keep up with. Experiment and see what works.
  • Set the table, one object at a time. For example, put the dinner plate on the place mat. Have the child place the fork on the left, the spoon to the right.
Adorable little toddler girl with rainbow

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Eye-Hand Coordination

Children with ASD will not seek out toys or objects to use in a meaningful way which contributes to a delay in eye-hand coordination. Try putting objects of different shapes and textures into a pillowcase. Show each object and name it as you put it into the pillowcase. Have the child pull one object at a time, allowing for manipulation of the object. Talk about the object and demonstrate how to manipulate that object. Great objects to use – a ball, slinky, set of keys, windup toy, a small stuffed animal. This game allows a child to visualize an object in his mind and understanding of object permanence. Avoid toys that require batteries or react when a button is pushed. The child needs to have the impact on the object.

Other activities – shape matching, following a rolling ball, floor play with driving a train in a wide circle or figure 8 pattern, rolling a ball back and forth, hitting a balloon in the air, popping bubbles.

A note on video games – while children can become experts at video games, the skills that they learn while doing so are not transferable to other functional areas of life.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are necessary for writing, eating, using clothing fasteners like buttons or snaps, and participating in leisure activities such as drawing or coloring.

Pincer Grasp

  • Make pizza dough and have the child pinch off small sections. Dip those in a variety of seasonings placed in small bowls. Drop onto a cookie sheet and bake.
  • Squeeze a wet sponge to water plants.
  • Use kitchen tools like a rolling pin, garlic press, and cookie cutters on dough to build hand strength.
  • Use scissors to cut thicker items like play-dough, straws, and foam shapes if they aren’t ready for paper.
  • Pick up small objects with chop sticks or tongs.
  • Play games like Pick Up Sticks, Don’t Spill the Beans, Don’t Break the Ice, and Kerplunk.
  • Pinch off dead leaves on plants.


Children with ASD can become dysregulated when their world becomes unpredictable. Too many demands, over-stimulation and not understanding what is expected can increase stress levels. To keep things clear and predictable:

  • Give directions stating what to do rather than what not to do.
  • Give warnings that use consistent, simple language. Ex. “It’s almost time to clean up and wash hands for dinner.” Set a sand timer to show the time passing.
  • Sing relevant songs, use objects, pictures or signs to help with understanding during transitions.
  • Give a cue that there is a change coming like waving bye-bye to a truck. Put a finished activity into a bin and close the lid.
  • Focus on what the child is doing next rather than what they are leaving.
  • Give choices when you can. Sometimes when a child has a diagnosis, all their choices are taken away from them and they are told what to do. This is frustrating.
  • Make routines as predictable as possible. Break down daily living skill tasks such a tooth brushing, handwashing and dressing with step by step pictures on a strip of cardboard or paper.


Relaxation and downtime are just as important as having activities to do. Many children don’t know how to relax and need to be taught what some options could be. This is a skill that will serve them throughout their lives. The relaxation routine my son has now was first introduced to him as a preschooler.

Some ideas to relax are:

  • listening to music
  • deep breathing
  • gentle stretching/yoga
  • listen to an audio story, read or be read to.
  • rock in a rocking chair
  • retreat to a designated quiet space
  • colouring

The ideas mentioned may not be suitable for all children or may need to be adapted for a child. Experiment to see what works best as each person with autism is an individual.

Further reading on skill building through daily activities:

Autism Intervention Every Day! Embedding Activities in Daily Routines for Young Children and Their Families

Carolina Curriculum for Preschoolers with Special Needs (2nd Ed.)

Everyday Activities to Help Your Young Child with Autism Live Life to the Full

1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Revised Edition

Tasks Galore, Revised Edition






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