By Raising Children Network
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Teenaged boys playing musical instruments credit Yeulet
Social and recreational activities give teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a chance to follow their interests. These activities can also support the development of your child’s identity, social skills and confidence.

Why social and recreational activities are important

Doing organised social activities with other young people lets teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pursue special interests or things they’re good at. They also get the chance to meet other teenagers who are interested in the same things.

It helps teenagers build social skills and confidence, as well as skills that might be useful for employment in later years. They can get a lot out of the structure and routine that these activities offer.

Where to start with social activities

You could start by talking to your child about the activities or groups she’s interested in. You and your child could think about:

  • activities she can do on her own
  • activities she can do with a group
  • new groups or activities that she could start herself
  • regular events for other teenagers with similar interests, strengths and needs.

Making sure your child is included
Sometimes you, an aide or another support person might need to speak up or ‘advocate’ for your child to make sure he’s included in the activities he’s interested in. Everyone has a right to engage in activities and use services in the community.

For advice or information about advocacy, try contacting support groups for parents of children with disability. These groups are often active in speaking up for their children’s right to participate in activities in the community. Or you could talk to other parents in our forum for parents of children with ASD to see whether they have any tips.

Existing social groups

If your child is interested in joining a group or activity that’s already running in your community, she’s likely to go better in one that matches her interests and strengths and is willing to be flexible to meet her needs. You can talk together about available groups and pick a few that will work for both your child and the group.

Your child’s options might include:

  • Scouts or Girl Guides
  • after-school clubs – for example, chess, drama, maths or music
  • co-curricular groups, including student council or class representative
  • community-based clubs – for example, dance, gymnastics, music, swimming, table tennis or soccer
  • toastmasters clubs
  • creative writing groups
  • programs run by your local council
  • programs run at your local library
  • outdoor activities – for example, lawn bowling, archery, skating and laser skirmish.

There might also be existing organised social groups for teenagers with disability, including those with ASD. Examples are special sporting teams, camps, social groups or clubs that teenagers can take part in for a small fee.

Your local council might have a recreation or access officer who can help match your child’s interests to activities running in the community. Or your state or territory autism association might be able to help you find local organisations for young people with disability.

The joy is often in the activity, and your child might also really like the routine and structure that some activities offer. Sometimes friendships can grow from sharing interests with other young people, but this won’t always happen.

Your child’s own club, group or event

Another option is for your child to start his own club or organise regular events for people with similar interests and needs. Here are some things to think about if your child likes this idea:

  • What is your child most interested in? If it’s stamp collection, for example, she could start a stamp collecting group. Other ideas include a painting, skating, bowling or dinner club group.
  • What networks does your child have to promote a new group or event, so that he reaches other teenagers with similar interests and needs? Your network of family and friends, the school, your local community or a safe online community could be good places to start.
  • Does your child want or need some help learning how to organise and promote a group or event? Consider who in your child’s life could help her with this, or find support programs that can help your child set up a group through social media or online notice boards. If the activity is happening through your child’s school, you could discuss how learning these skills could be part of your child’s schoolwork.

Here are some steps to help your child promote a group or event:

  1. Choose an event based on your child’s special interest.
  2. Choose a venue for the event.
  3. Make a flyer advertising a group that is ‘open to all’. Include the day, time and frequency of meeting (for example, weekly or monthly).
  4. Post the flyer at school and in other places, such as online autism notice boards and websites.
You might be worried about how your child will feel if few or no people turn up to the event. This might be disappointing, but many teenagers with ASD get a lot out of just doing the activity, rather than from relationships with others.

Video Social life for your child with ASD

In this short video, parents talk about encouraging their children with ASD to socialise. One mother says starting high school made her son want to socialise more, but not all teenagers with ASD are interested in social activities. They might have fewer friends than peers, but they can still form good friendships and share common interests.
  • Last updated or reviewed 21-11-2013
  • Acknowledgements Developed in collaboration with Donna Williams and Akash Temple.