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Social and recreational activities for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

9-18 years

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 for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

Teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are just as interested in recreational and social activities as typically developing teenagers. They get just as much pleasure from these activities too.

Organised social and recreational activities with other young people give teenagers with ASD the chance to pursue special interests or things they’re good at. This can help them build confidence, and they might also learn useful skills for employment in later years.

Social activities also give teenagers with ASD the chance to meet others who are interested in the same things. This can help them feel included and reduce their feelings of loneliness or isolation. And socialising with others is a great way for teenagers with ASD to practise social skills.

Teenagers with ASD can get a lot out of the structure and routine that these organised social and recreational activities offer.

Where to start with social activities for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

You could start by talking with your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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.

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 with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is interested in joining a group or activity that’s already running in your community, she’s likely to do 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 or community-based clubs – for example, chess, drama, maths, Lego, astronomy, computer coding, dance, gymnastics, soccer, toastmasters or music
  • 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 those with ASD. Examples are special sporting teams, 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 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.

Starting a social club, group or event

Another option is for your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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? For example, if she’s interested in stamp collecting, 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, like online ASD 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

Friends and socialising: teenagers with autism spectrum disorder

6:27

In this short video, parents talk about encouraging their children with autism spectrum disorder (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.

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Last updated or reviewed
07-07-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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