J is one of 16 grandchildren and the only one on the spectrum. My nieces and nephews thankfully all know how to engage, ask questions and speak their minds like most kids. I think sometimes when it comes to J most people forget that they have to initiate the conversation and interaction when trying to create a bond. Luckily most people are very open-minded to any suggestions toward engaging with J, especially my parents. They are always looking for ways to include him when he comes to visit. I’ve learned one of the best ways to bond with J is to engage in a learning activity of some sort. He loves when I teach him things like cooking, a craft, reading, even gardening. Here are 6 activities grandparents or anyone looking to bond with a child on the spectrum can try.
1. Reading– When J goes with his grandparents for the night I like to stop by the library and pick up a few books to send him with something new so he’s not expecting them to read it the way I do. I pick out books that are at his reading level so he can read to them as well. When we read together I like to go page for page with J. I give him lots of time and assist by hinting the sounds of words that are tricky for him. Sometimes he gets so confident he will take over and read the whole book to me. Before he could read as well we spent more time discussing the pictures. I did most of the talking but he was certainly listening, learning and enjoying the shared moment.
2. Cleaning- Although it is not J’s favorite thing to do he does like learning a new skill, being helpful and feeling accomplished when its done. When I want J to help out by cleaning I ask him to do simple things like carry the clothes from the dryer to my bed, and take the dishes out of the dishwasher. He also helps make the beds, and fold his laundry. One of his favorite things is to help fold sheets and blankets because I give him a kiss when our corners meet. Cleaning can be a great opportunity to talk and explain simple tasks that are part of life. I wouldn’t recommend having them help with things that you like a specific or intricate way unless you don’t mind doing it again afterward. This could become frustrating for the both of you if the task is too difficult for the child. Always keep the child’s capabilities in mind not their age.
3. Gardening and Yard Work- When I am gardening I like to give J a little project of his own I will have him dig holes for my seeds or scoop up dirt to fill the holes. I always make sure he is wearing clothes I don’t mind getting trashed as well. His favorite thing is to water everything. TIP- if letting your assistant gardener water your plants, fill the can with just enough water so they don’t over water. Don’t be afraid to enlist older stronger kids to push around a wheel barrel or rake up some leaves. With simple instruction our kids can be pretty helpful. Don’t forget to stand back and admire the work you have accomplished together and always show your pride and appreciation for their help.
4. Cooking and Meal Preparation- J is very curious about what goes on in the kitchen mainly because he is a picky eater and wants to know just how and what is going into his food. I saw this as a great opportunity to get him involved. He enjoys mixing, measuring and pouring. He also likes when I tell him about all my ingredients and when I explain what I am doing. His favorite recipes are dough based, I always make him a personal dough ball so he can roll it around and squish it to his liking for a while. This is a great opportunity to teach sequence and time, for example, “first we do ABC, then we do LMNOP, after TUV amount of time we have XYZ.” If you want to make it a bit easier you can write out simple steps ahead of time to create a visual. Have them refer back to it for each step. Be sure to work in an area you don’t mind getting messy or prep it for the potential mess. Enlisting them for clean up is also a great idea but be sure to keep their capabilities in mind, for example J is good at taking things to the sink, rinsing them off and loading the dishwasher, not so great at wiping the table off without flinging most of it to the ground. Setting the table is also an easy way to make your kitchen assistant feel helpful.
5. Pass Down an Interest or Hobby- whether your handy with wood or like to knit sharing a personal hobby can be rewarding for both grandparent and child on the spectrum. Try to share a simpler aspect of the hobby first for example if you are good with carpentry, teach them to hammer a nail before trying to build something like a birdhouse. Use some scrap wood so they can practice it a few times. Maybe bird watching is your hobby, most kids like using binoculars, make a game of it by seeing how many birds they can find. Maybe photography is your hobby, start out simple by teaching them to pick a subject, maybe a favorite toy, and take a picture of it.
6. Prayer- I recently started teaching my son about prayer and the belief in God. I have taken him to church when no one is there but have not yet worked up to a full mass. When I was a kid my grandmother taught me prayers and took me to church all the time. Our faith is still something we share to this day.
Whatever activity you decide remember to always keep the child’s abilities in mind, they maybe thirteen but also maybe unable to cut with a knife. Don’t ask them if they want to do it, invite them to do it with you. Try to make each activity fun and exciting even if it seems simple and mundane to you. Explain the importance behind it. Keep instructions simple. Always be encouraging but allow them to make mistakes and when correcting BE PATIENT AND KIND. Share your own stories about how you learned this skill or why you enjoy said hobby, they may not be able to communicate much back but they are listening.
Let me know if this post helps or share your own stories and ideas for activities you have found to be enjoyable below. Thanks.