For people with autism, hobbies, activities and sports provide an innumerable amount of benefits during every stage of our lives: they may simply begin as a way to express ourselves, but over time they can be used as tools to help us better process the world around, as well as provide a system of protection when the same world gets too much. Whether or not you do believe these extra curricular activities do provide all the benefits I have stated (which they definitely do), there is one undeniable thing that hobbies, interest and activities are sure to give someone on the spectrum: a damn good time.
Featuring indoor hobbies, outdoor hobbies, competitive, creative and expressive activities, here are 20 ideal hobbies, activities and sports for people with autism.
Autistic people are known for their obsessions and I should know! Over the past 24 years of my life, I have collected: rocks, bobbleheads, Pokemon cards and for some unknown reason Nicholas Cage DVD’s (don’t ask). In return I have acquired skills such as organisation and valuing, and I also have no doubt that my obsessive collecting has improved my social skills – by learning to talk to people who I share similar interests with.
Just be wary that some collections come at a higher cost than others: rocks, postcards and bottle caps are all great for getting into, as they can pretty much be found anywhere. Once you move into trading cards and action figures however, then things become a bit more pricey.
2. Train Spotting
Unless you have been living under a rock, you might have noticed that most autists like love trains. Though this is usually an interest which disappears over time, for young people with autism, getting to see the various trains and chart them/take pictures of them is highly engaging and teaches/rewards patience.
With multiple online sites dedicated to telling you the more interesting locations for locomotive watching (like this one here), the train spotting scene is bigger than ever before. So, if you’re looking for a low cost, exciting hobby for autists, then look no further.
For those who don’t know what coding is (or do and just need reminding), coding is the act of creating digital constructions: which can range from something as simple as an online clock, to something more complex, like a working 3D model of an animated character.
As practical as it is engaging, coding is a limitless hobby which could be considered essential in this digital age. Through coding, people with autism can learn to express themselves and explore their creativity in a totally non-verbal environment. Coding is easy to pick up, yet difficult to master, but with various online courses scattered around the web, specifically tailored to teach people with autism coding, the journey between computer novice and online guru is slowly becoming simpler.
For people who are supposed to struggle with emotions, people with autism sure are good at poetry. Seen as a great way to both communicate and express ourselves, many people on the spectrum have been recommended to take up poetry as a hobby, as it allows us to better understand and make sense of our unique view of the world.
Poems don’t have to rhyme, they don’t have to make sense and, in all honestly, they don’t even need to be good. Poems are simply a release of all those built up thoughts, which many in the community harbour, and even without writing 154 sonnets, you’re likely to reap the benefits of this often overlooked hobby.
Often depicted in film and TV as a tell tale sign of autism, apart from creating symmetrical constructs, autistic people enjoy using Lego as the iconic building blocks follow set patterns which, when fully understood, open up limitless possibility in what they can become.
Lego sets aren’t just for fun however, as they are also great for helping people on the spectrum improve their motor skills and encourage creativity. Building with Lego has also been proven to help those on the spectrum who find it difficult to communicate and, as a result, many academics will encourage autistic children to play with these timeless toys during therapy sessions.
For people with autism, whatever their level of independence, cooking is an amazing group activity, as the act of creating delicious dishes, is something which can be taught without the need for conversation.
On top of this, cooking is also recommended for people with autism, as most meals come with highly detailed recipes, which provide little room for uncertainty and reward literal thinkers who stick to the given steps.
Joe from The A Word isn’t the only person with autism who loves music. Whether it’s the physical act of taking up an instrument or diving head first into the world of sound and becoming a certified audiofile, autistic people can often carve out a niche for themselves in either the rhythm and beat of sound or the deep trivia which surrounds the music industry.
For less independent autists, there are a number of sites dedicated to selling instruments for people with sensory issues. However, most percussion instruments such as rattles and tambourines are just as enjoyable as the more tailored instruments.
I personally took up the bass guitar during high school, as this instrument provides the rhythm to most mainstream songs (and I thought it would make me look cool) but the reality is that, when it comes to picking the right instrument for someone with autism, there really is no limit.
Like poetry, art is an incredible hobby for people with autism, as it provides a creative outlet to express those thoughts which we can often struggle to get out. Unlike poetry, art allows people with autism who struggle with words or are non-verbal, to show their emotions, without words, and as a result is used for some therapy sessions.
Although I am purely promoting drawing as a hobby and nothing more, it should be stated that, in certain cases, art can be pursued as a career for people on the spectrum, as has been the case for many awesome artists such as Stephen Wiltshire, Patrick Samuel and Jessica Park.
As mentioned in my autistic gift guide, trampolining is a highly recommended sport for people with autism, due to the repetitive nature of bouncing, which is both reassuring and stress relieving.
Although the thought of having to invest money and space in buying the necessary equipment for the sport can be quite daunting, it should be mentioned that, for similar results, a micro trampoline can be used.
Alternatively, there are many trampoline parks who operate special days for autism therapy.
Give ‘Autism Hobby’ a quick Google and it won’t take you long to find a recommendation for swimming. A repetitive and highly physical activity which exercises every muscle, swimming provides people with autism an isolated break from the busy outdoor world.
In my experience, swimming baths have always been my go to place for processing my thoughts. However, it must be said that, on the odd occasion, it has had the adverse effect, as busy pools have resulted in other occupants splashing past and stronger swimmers (who I am sure are part fish) have ruined the peace, by turning every other lap into a race.
With countless swimming classes and sessions all widely available for people with autism, it’s little wonder why this sport has become so highly regarded for families with newly diagnosed children.
Another personal favourite of mine, bowling is a brilliant sport for those on the spectrum, as it is highly predictable and gives the player almost entire control over what is going on. Also, thanks to the miracle that is buffers, bowling is open to any entry level, even if you’re as hopeless at hitting the pins as me!
Bowling isn’t for everyone though, as all the noise from the colliding pins and often loud disco tracks (which play in the background of bowling alleys) can be disorientating for those who suffer from sensory issues. Then again, I have seen people discussing these same smashing sounds as almost therapeutic, so maybe this issue isn’t as problematic as it might seem.
12. Horse Riding
First let me start by saying that horse riding, as a sport, is entirely foreign to me. However, that being said, I have no doubt that the rhythmic clip-clopping of a horses hooves is almost certainly of great appeal to someone on the spectrum.
From what I have found online, many academics recommend horse riding for autistic people, because of its reliance on creating a strong relationship between the person on the spectrum and the horse itself.
With many places around the web offering ‘equestrian therapy’(at somewhat of an alarmingly high price), it seems there is more to horse riding than just the noises they produce, as I originally thought.
Fishing may seem like an odd choice to put on this list, due to the precise nature and the unpredictability of the sport, but when looked at from the view point of a bonding activity between a family or a support worker, this seemingly random entry, offers an incredibly unique experience for people on the spectrum and will likely become something you have to try (if only the one time).
Once again, I’m not going to pretend I know tons about this recommendation. However, from what I have read, fishing is a great sport to introduce someone on the spectrum to, as it is slow and methodical and takes place in a highly relaxed setting.
Although many people with autism may struggle with the intricacies of setting up a fishing line, this offers a valuable opportunity to work with the autistic person as a team, to help us through the complicated stage of what should quickly become a smooth and exciting escape with nature.
A sport which relies on the repetitive motion of pedalling at a steady pace, whilst also taking place on a technical, yet easy to understand machine, for years cycling has been a fascination for many people with autism and due to its rising popularity amongst the community, it is not uncommon to see autistic cycling clubs being set up.
Although certain autists may have difficulty initially learning how to cycle, it should be mentioned that there are many sites around the web which feature ‘how to guides’ dedicated to showing family members and support workers that getting an autistic person up on two (or three) wheels can be as easy as riding a… well, you get the picture.
Probably the cheapest and most easily accessible of all sports, running has been recommended as an ideal activity for people on the spectrum, as the steady pattern of putting one foot in front of the other, is both rhythmic and satisfying for us to take part in.
With multiple groups being set up just for autistic athletes, running/sprinting is also a great opportunity for autistic people to stretch our social muscles and improve our communication skills. Although you can’t always run away from your problems, you might be able to solve them whilst taking part in this sport.
First things first, yes, Chess is a sport, look it up! One of the oldest games known to man, chess is a highly engaging pastime for people with autism and is both rewarding and exciting to play.
Teaching players the value of patience, planning and perspective (as well as many other lessons which don’t begin with the letter P), Chess is an incredible sport for people with autism to take up, which now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, can be enjoyed by even the most introverted of us.
An activity which almost anyone can get involved in, hiking is ideal for people with autism, as it takes essentials like exercise and exploring and gives us a set goal to accomplish at our own pace.
As is clear in the soon to be released film THE WALK, people with autism will often take to hiking as, despite an often set route, hiking gives us a sense of freedom whilst taking away some of those nasty uncertainties which can come with it.
Maybe it’s because autism can affect language capabilities, or maybe it’s in spite of this, but if someone on the spectrum can learn to read, the chances are they won’t stop.
Providing an isolated escape into worlds unknown, reading is an incredible activity for people with autism as, unlike film and TV, books are usually easier to process due to the reader being in control of how fast the narrative is. Whether its books which feature autistic characters, books specifically designed for people with autism or just about any other book you can get off the shelf, there really is no reason why autistic people can’t release their inner book worm today.
19. Dungeons and Dragons
Probably the most out there suggestion you will find on this list, Dungeons and Dragons is a role playing board game which has been positively proven (and subsequently used as therapy treatment) to benefit people with autism. A great opportunity for autistic people who suffer from anxiety to express themselves, Dungeons and Dragons is a social activity where once a campaign starts, a person with autism can become anything they want.
Although all the rules and regulations may seem daunting at first, the fun of Dungeons and Dragons is that, once you get into it, you will find that there is no limit to what you can do. A great example of this is, a close friend of mine who, though small and often stuck in his own thoughts, insists that, once he enters the world of magic, he is seen as a strong outgoing autistic orc, who is famous across the land for speaking his mind.
20. Video Games
Whether its providing a release from a stressful day or helping to improve hand eye co-ordination and other motor skills, video games are incredible in every way for people with autism.
With recent games such as Overwatch, Watch Dogs 2 and, the soon to be released, Seasons of Heaven all including autistic characters, it seems the gaming industry itself is seeing the value of engaging people on the spectrum. As such it is helping to captivate those of us who don’t just see video games as an activity, but as a crutch which has taught and supported us through life.
Bonus Suggestion: Join the Scouts
The Scout Association is an all inclusive, ongoing adventure which, despite my own preconceptions, is welcoming to both boys and girls (and of course autists). Although many may associate the Scouts with outdoor activities, in my experience this is only a small percentage of what they do, making them welcoming to people with autism who, like myself, prefer solid walls.
It would be hard to cover everything The Scouts do in just a few paragraphs, so make sure to check out their site to see everything on offer. While you’re there be sure to make note of their specific autism policy section, which outlines their understanding and willingness to welcome those who may have difficulty embracing each and every activity the group offers.
(I also did want to mention Brownies as a female focused version of the Scouts, however, unlike the former, Brownies did not have an entire page of the site dedicated to how they handle members with autism – although I don’t deny they probably could)
Carry on the Conversation.
Let’s be honest, a list containing 20 entries isn’t even close to scratching the surface when it comes to available options for activities, sports and hobbies for people with autism, so let me know what I have missed in the comments below.
As always, I can be found on Twitter @AutismRevised and via my email: AutisticandUnapologetic@gmail.com.
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.