Social and recreational activities: why they’re important for autistic teenagers
Organised social and recreational activities with other young people give all teenagers the chance to explore interests or things they’re good at. These activities can build confidence, self-worth and wellbeing. They can also help teenagers learn useful skills for their social life and future employment.
Autistic teenagers are just as interested in recreational and social activities as typically developing teenagers. They often enjoy the structure and routine that organised social and recreational activities offer. And these activities have particular benefits for autistic teenagers. They can:
- give autistic teenagers the chance to meet other young people with similar interests
- help autistic teenagers feel included and reduce any feelings of loneliness or isolation they have
- be a great way for autistic teenagers to practise social skills and develop their understanding of social rules.
Getting started with social and recreational activities for autistic teenagers
To find a good social or recreational activity for your autistic child, you could start by talking with your child about what they’re interested in. You and your child could think about:
- activities your child can do on their own
- activities your child can do with a group
- new groups or activities that your child could start
- regular events for other teenagers with similar interests, strengths and needs.
Sometimes you, an aide or another support person might need to advocate for your child to make sure they’re included in the activities. Everyone has a right to do activities and use services in the community.
Joining social and recreational activities or groups
If your autistic child is interested in joining a social and recreational activity or group that’s already running in your community, they’re likely to do better in one that matches their interests and strengths. The best groups will also be willing to be flexible to meet your child’s needs.
You can talk with your child about what’s available in your community and pick something that you think will work for both your child and the group.
Your child’s options might include:
- Scouts or Girl Guides
- after-school or community-based clubs – for example, chess, drama, maths, Lego, astronomy, computer coding or gaming, dance, gymnastics, soccer, toastmasters or music
- extracurricular or co-curricular groups, including the student council or class representative group
- creative writing groups or fan groups for science fiction, anime and so on
- programs run by your local council or library
- outdoor activities – for example, lawn bowling, archery, skating or laser skirmish.
There might also be existing organised social groups for teenagers with disability, including autistic teenagers. Examples include sporting programs or camps 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 autistic people.
If your child is worried about going to a social group, you, a family member or a friend could go along for extra support to start with. If the group isn’t specifically for autistic people, you could talk about whether your child wants to tell people they’re autistic.
The joy is often in the activity. Sometimes friendships can grow from sharing interests with other young people, but this won’t always happen.
Starting social and recreational activities, groups or events
Your autistic child might be interested in starting their own group or organising 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? For example, if your child is interested in stamp collecting, they could start a stamp collecting group. Other ideas include a painting, skating, bowling or dinner club group.
- What networks does your child have to reach 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 an activity, group or event? Consider who in your child’s life could help them, or find support programs that can help your child set up a group through social media or online chat rooms. 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:
- Choose an event based on your child’s interests.
- Choose a venue for the event.
- Make a flyer advertising a group that is ‘open to all’. Include the day, time and frequency of meeting – for example, weekly or monthly.
- Post the flyer at school and in other places, like Instagram or Facebook.