As the mom of two autistic boys, regularly participating in activities geared toward their healthy development plays a huge role in their daily and weekly routines. In this post, I will share some of our favorites we’ve discovered over the years from experienced occupational therapists (OTs), teachers and, of course, the internet!
The best thing about these particular crafts is that they were chosen with you and your kiddos in mind and can be done at home using everyday items.
Check out these 15 DIY crafts for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary-aged children that can be done using easy-to-find items around the house!
Sensory play isn’t just a fun way to appeal to their five senses; crafts and activities are invaluable learning tools for autistic kids to better process sensory information and make great strides in their developmental journeys.
What is sensory play?
When my boys were initially diagnosed with autism, I realized I had to become a quick learner on many of the terms used by their OTs and it was the help of their incredible OTs that helped to expand my thinking and introduce me to the important role sensory play can have in many facets of development. From birth to early childhood, sensory play and activities are necessary for the healthy cognitive development of all children. However, for autistic kids who may be prone to experience sensitivities to unfamiliar sounds, smells and textures, sensory play and activities for autistic kids encourage them to engage with their senses in a fun and stimulating way.
What is involved?
Soft yarn, goopy paint, fluffy feathers, sticky glue… Autism-focused occupational therapy crafts use all of the colorful, textured and messy supplies we associate with only the most exciting arts and crafts projects!
Through regular exposure to sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures, these activities introduce and familiarize children with different sensations, allowing them to begin practicing and developing their self-regulation skills. Using craft scissors, pencils and crayons, and other helpful tools, autistic children will also have opportunities to refine their fine and gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination as they create their works of art.
Keep reading to discover 15 easy, age-appropriate DIY activities for autistic children:
Crafts for toddlers
From noodle garlands to soft feather flower creations, your youngest arts & crafts enthusiasts will love getting their hands on these unique crafts!
Garland craft noodle
Encourage littles to practice holding paint brushes as they paint macaroni pieces they’ll glue to construction paper shapes they can string together to make festive garlands.
Kids will identify colored strings of yarn and their matching paints so they can dip, drag, and plop each painted strand on paper to create a masterpiece!
DIY clear tambourines
Shake things up with this visual and auditory project! Using beans or colorful straws (which older kids can carefully cut into smaller pieces), littles can create musical tambourines.
Just in time for Halloween, kids can use round foam brushes and their fingers to paint the sweetest pumpkins.
Feather flower craft
This OT craft encourages kids to use paint and glue to trace petals and leaves before using fluffy feathers to create beautiful flowers.
Crafts for preschoolers
Children with autism ages 3-6 are ready to begin exploring all of the shapes and colors that come along with learning to hold scissors and paintbrushes!
Circus tent craft
Kids will use scissors, glue and paint to create patterned coffee filter circus tents with working tent doors!
Easy shapes craft
Using scissors to cut out each shape, preschoolers can identify and place pieces to assemble their favorite vehicles, like big rigs, fire trucks and school buses.
DIY rhythm sticks
Holding popsicle sticks, kids will use their hand-eye coordination to wrap them with colored threads to make rhythm sticks they can use to create fun beats or practice letters and numbers.
Baking soda paints
Part science, part art! Kids will love painting with colorful, super bubbly mixtures of baking soda, vinegar and paint.
“Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” craft
By carefully cutting out shapes and threading string, littles will use hand-eye coordination to create the shoe-shaped home from their favorite story!
Crafts for elementary schoolers
Perfect for older children, these crafts encourage them to get creative using scissors, paint, writing utensils, and even potato peelers to create unique works of art!
Cardboard tube zebra craft
Kids can create their zebra craft using hole punchers, paint, yarn, and some innovative construction techniques!
Recycled seedling planter animal crafts
By arranging and gluing googly eyes and construction paper shapes to separated seedling planters, kids can create recycled animal crafts!
Soap shaving bookmarks
This craft will require some help from parents as it requires a hot iron, but kids can practice their hand-over-hand movements as they carefully use a potato peeler to peel pieces of soap that they will turn into colorful bookmarks.
Children will trace and cut shapes, arrange buttons and draw faces to create fun autumn scarecrows they can use to practice their math skills!
Frog on a lily pad
Following a template, kids will practice cutting and arranging more complex shapes to create a bouncy 3D frog.
These DIY projects are perfect for skill building, but that isn’t the only reason we love them—arts and crafts allow us to bond as a family, and I cherish nothing more than watching my boys having fun and making new memories while they learn and play!
Which projects will you and your littles take on first?
From the author
*Please note that I continue to grow and learn from the autsitic community and from our self-advocates I have learned the importance of using identity-first language. As a result, this is the language I use throughout. I encourage you to learn from the community and for us to work collectively to ensure we are spreading education and knowledge that empowers the community.