Extracurricular Activities and the Autistic Child

Extracurricular Activities and the Autistic Child
Obviously, we are talking about the high-functioning autistic child here, since most kids on the opposite end of the spectrum would not be able to participate in after-school activities with their peers. Although you want your child to experience all the world has for them to experience and want to support their interests completely, there is a parental learning curve here. Involving your child in a sport after school is great, but if the practices are too much or too long, your child will not have what he or she needs to maintain an even emotional keel for very long. That results in aggressive behavior, outbursts and meltdowns. Likewise, involving your child in too many after school activities will have the same effect.

So how do you choose what is right for your child? Most parents of “normal” kids figure it out by first limiting the number of activities their kids are involved in, and adding more as the child gets older or seems able to handle more activity and responsibility. However, the neuro-typical child has a filter that helps them block out excess environmental stimulation that ASD kids cannot.

So, simply put, if your son or daughter wants to experience an activity, like dance, soccer, music or art lessons, try it for short durations. The best time to enroll your child in a short-term experience is in the summer. It keeps him or her from getting bored and helps both of you figure out if the activity is a good fit . If your child wants to continue the activity once school begins again, he or she is already settled into the routine of the activity and can expect it with the same frequency as he or she did in the summer. It is best to try one activity at a time, and add only one more activity if your child requests it. If there are dramatic shifts in behavior or mood, then you know that two or more activities is too much, and you and your child will have to decide which one is most important before dropping the others.

Middle schoolers and High schoolers will have tons of opportunities and endless options for after-school activities. Although your child may be eager to try them all, you have to rein him or her in, because you already know what your child can manage and what is too much for him or her. Although your child may be heading to college and need those extracurriculars on his or her college application, most colleges are also forgiving and understanding of applicants who have ASD or other qualifying disability. What is more important is that your child finds out what he or she likes and sticks with it, rather than trying everything and sticking with nothing.

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