Sports Ideas for Children with Autism

Now that spring is here, children often start playing sports. We can always tell when it starts by the questions parents ask!

“What’s a good sport for my child?”
“Should we try out for soccer?

The best sport is the one your child enjoys and does best at. To find the right one, we encourage trying out several sports. Your child will quickly take to his or her favorite. (We’re happy to help you do this in our therapy sessions.)

What kinds of sports should you try? Let’s look at some ideas of available sports.

Ideas for Sports Your Child Can Try

Here are sports we commonly see children play each year. These are presented in no particular order.

  • Soccer – Wonderful sport for social activity and exercise. But it may not work well for your child if they elope (please see the “Cautions” section later).
  • T-Ball – A very inclusive and easy sport to play. The Challenger Division offers T-Ball as a part of Little League.
  • Swimming – Maybe your child prefers the water? Swimming is a basic activity and a lot of fun. Plus it’s easier for a child with autism to compete, since swim teams compete individually.
  • Track & Field – Track events require fewer nonverbal communication skills than most team sports. It’s a simple sport some children with autism love.
  • Gymnastics – If your child likes tumbling and rolling around, they may take to gymnastics. It’s great for coordination too.
  • Bowling – Many children with autism like bowling. Even though it’s loud! They might like the repetition. Or seeing the pins go crashing down.
  • Basketball – Children of all ages enjoy basketball. It’s one of the most popular sports we see. It’s easy to learn and there’s immediate visual satisfaction when the ball goes in the hoop.

Cautions to Keep in Mind

Playing sports is always subject to your child’s age, physical ability, and level of socialization. Sometimes a child has a difficult time playing with other children, or they lack the fine motor skills needed for the sport.

In addition, some children with autism may not find sporting activities “reinforcing.” Either because they include other children, the game requires motor movements they find very difficult, or they just don’t prefer the sport to things they normally do.

There’s also the issue of eloping. “Eloping” refers to a child wandering or running away from a safe environment. We discussed the phenomenon in January: What To Do about Wandering Off: Safety Tips & Tracking Devices

We see this come up in soccer. A child with autism will kick the ball, laugh…and then run away from the game as fast as possible.

If your child has any history of eloping, you’ll have to consider that when trying out sports. We’re happy to help you determine if a certain sport is a good choice for your child.

Preparing Your Child for Sports

When you find a sport your child likes, they’ll need to learn how to play. Think of this in three parts:

  1. Building Familiarity – Making the child familiar with a sport’s overall portrayal, how it works, and what they’re expected to do. Talking with your child and using visual aids helps here.
  2. Task Analysis – Analyzing the actions needed to play the sport (called ‘tasks’). This can include motions like arm swinging, kicking while running, throwing, and rolling a ball.
  3. Motor Skills Training – Working with the child to train for those tasks, one by one. Just like we do for a daily routine.

It’s not that different from many of our Occupational Therapy sessions. In fact, children often learn sports-related tasks faster than other actions.

What about Horseback Riding?

Some don’t consider it a sport. But we’ve found that some children absolutely love riding horses.

It’s not hard to see why. Horseback riding is a tactile and rhythmic activity. The rider rocks back and forth while the horse trots. When the horse gallops, the rider feels a steady bounding.

Some children appreciate the sensations so much, it becomes helpful for their therapy. It even has a name – “Hippotherapy.

If your child isn’t afraid of large animals, by all means, try a little horseback riding!

Need Help Choosing a Sport? Ask Your A is for Apple Supervisor

When your child finds the sport they enjoy most, you’ll know it. They will light up, get excited, maybe hop up & down or grab for the ball.

They may take to team sports like soccer or basketball. If not, individual sports like gymnastics or swimming might capture their attention.

If you need help arranging for your child to try a sport, please ask your A is for Apple supervisor. We’re happy to provide all the help we can. Some sports you can even try out in our San Jose facility.

We don’t have a pool though!

See you next month!

Ice Hockey and Star Wars in San Jose!

Star Wars Night with SJ Barracuda Hockey

Sunday, March 13 is Star Wars Night at the SAP Center!

The new San Jose Barracuda minor-league Hockey Team has a special Star Wars-themed game coming up.  Starting at 5pm, the Barracuda take on the Ontario Reign.  It’s a special family-friendly event – great for kids who love hockey AND Star Wars!

The game takes place at San Jose’s SAP Center.  Tickets start at $12, and each ticket includes a Barracuda hat.

Get your tickets at any of the following:

If you reserve in advance, you can join the Player Tunnel – where your child can high-five the players as they enter the ice.

Autism Tips: Daily Routines – Feeding

Eating Out

Let’s continue our discussion on Daily Routines – getting dressed, haircuts, brushing teeth, etc.

So far we’ve covered hair brushing/getting a haircut, and brushing teeth/visiting the dentist.  Now let’s talk about feeding.  Both at home, and eating out at restaurants.

Daily Schedule – Feeding
Almost every child within the autism spectrum has some issue about eating.  They may have difficulty chewing some foods, or they only want to eat one type of food.  Picky eaters are very common, and one of the most-discussed topics in our sessions.

To help broaden the number of foods they’ll eat, try these tips.

  1. Choose a food that’s similar to those your child likes best – similar in texture (like corn chips if they like potato chips), or in taste (like fresh oranges if they like orange juice).
  2. Take baby steps when introducing a food – to start, just place a new food on the child’s plate for a moment.  Then take it away.  Repeat, but leave the food on the plate longer.  Watch how they react.  If they get interested, proceed with more baby steps.
  3. Take the baby steps one at a time – touching the food, smelling it, bring the food to the lips, touch with tongue, take a little taste, taste every day for a week.  Buildup is slow, but once done, you have a new food to feed your child!

Additional help: Overcoming Feeding Problems in a Child with Autism –

Regular Event – Going Out to Eat
Eating out is a whole different process.  When you’re going to a restaurant, remember that familiarity & calmness are most important.

  • Plan ahead – Consider where you’re going.  Is the environment over-stimulating?  What time of day is quiet?  What types of foods will your child like there?
  • Show them the menu ahead of time, while sitting down, so they’re familiarized with the ordering experience.
  • Bring familiar items with you.  A few favorite toys, maybe a small snack, or visual cue cards to keep their attention.
  • Ask for a seat away from the kitchen or bathrooms.  Many people move through these areas, which may stress your child.
  • Consider informing the server of your child’s special needs.  This may avoid confusion if your child doesn’t respond to questions, or gets frustrated.  Most restaurants will gladly be patient & assist you.
  • Ask your server to tell you before they do any “Happy Birthday” singing.  That way you can take your child outside while the singing occurs.
  • If your child becomes over-stimulated, bring them outside or out to the car for a few moments.
  • When ordering food for your child, be as specific as you can.  If your child doesn’t like sauces or pepper, make sure the server knows not to include those on any part of his/her dish.
  • Ask for the check when the food is brought out.  This way you can pay while your child’s eating.  When they’re done, they may want to leave right away.

Resources to help:
Going Out to Eat – Autism Speaks
Taking your autistic child to a restaurant: Tips on dining out for families living with autism –

Do you have any successful feeding tips?  Please share them on our Facebook Page:

Ask A is for Apple

Learning to Communicate

“Dear A is for Apple,
My child is old enough to start talking, but [he/she] doesn’t.  When will my child talk?”

We hear this question frequently.  However, the short answer is…we don’t know.

But that shouldn’t stop us from answering the real question most families are asking when they say this.  They want to know – “When will my child start to communicate?”

Let’s think about that for a second.  To communicate is to transfer some information from one person to another.  Communication can take many forms, both verbal and non-verbal.

Communication begins with a child crying for milk (access), to have a dirty diaper changed (escape), or just to bring that “mommy” person back into the room (attention).  All this communication from a simple cry.  No words required.

It’s important to recognize that communication happens between our kids and us every day, and in many diversified ways. Some children will develop the ability to use vocal verbal behavior, and will express their communication through words in the traditional sense.  Others may use picture icons that reflect a need or desired item (i.e., a bowl of grapes, a break from the task, a hug, etc.).

In any approach, vocal or not, we should focus on the underlying motivation from our children to have a need met.

Now, throwing a plate of broccoli off the table is inappropriate (and messy!).  But it’s also an effective way – if only momentarily – to communicate that your child does not want broccoli.

When your child communicates inappropriately, it’s time to help them discover their more “appropriate voice,” using another communication method such as pictures or words, to meet the same need of conveying their feelings.

We can listen with both our ears and eyes, to observe how their behavior communicates their interests and feelings.  We do this all while reinforcing the idea that their “voice”, in whatever form it comes, is one deserving of being heard.

So if you start to wonder when your child will talk, consider something more important – just what it is they’re trying to say now.

Do you have a question you’d like answered?  Please email it to us at for inclusion in a future newsletter.