Extracurricular Activities for Children with Asperger's Syndrome
Social Benefits of Activities
Children with Asperger's syndrome who participate in activities are able to learn important social skills outside of the classroom setting. While some Asperger's children prefer to spend time alone due to social awkwardness, an extracurricular activity such as an academic club, art or music class, or non-competitive sport can be an ideal avenue for developing peer relationships without inducing high levels of stress or anxiety. Kids who have Asperger's syndrome typically enjoy following a specific routine, so they may adapt best to an activity that takes place on a set day and time each week. As social interaction and communication are areas in which these children are deficient, activities that can involve a high level of conflict (such as competitive sports) are usually not recommended for an Asperger's child who becomes frustrated easily.
Extracurricular activities can offer many opportunities for children with Asperger's syndrome to gain new social skills and prepare him or her to succeed in the workplace. Those who have a profound interest in art, technology, music, or math can start to develop bonds of friendship with other kids who engage in certain after-school clubs or classes. An Asperger's child who excels in science or who is very skilled at chess can hone his or her problem-solving skills by participating in group activities. Some school districts will provide a teacher aide for children who wish to sign up for an activity, but need extra encouragement in communicating with others.
Selecting Extracurricular Activities for Asperger's Children
There are several factors to consider when choosing activities for an Asperger's child. The activity should be one that makes the child feel comfortable, and it should also be one that the child finds interesting. The things your student or child like the most may even be his or her future profession, so nurture that passion.
For instance, a child with Asperger's syndrome who is non-athletic but loves to read would most likely thrive in a book club rather than on a soccer team. This does not mean that you should not challenge your student to try new things, just do not put him or her into a group where it becomes unhealthy for his or her self-esteem.
Children who have not been previously exposed to extracurricular activities should ease into the process by participating in one activity at first and then gradually adding others. While social interaction is very important for children with Asperger's syndrome, many of these children experience anxiety from too much social activity at once. Take is slow; a class or club that is small in number and does not meet for a prolonged period of time would be ideal to start with.
Places to find groups
Although the type of group will vary by child, here are a few ideas gathered from research:
Summer camps for children who have Asperger's.
Local libraries, colleges (here is an example of a group from the University of Michigan if you live in this area) and churches
Join or search OASIS @ MAAP for local support in your area, ideas and great articles.
Last and most importantly, parents can help select the best activities for promoting social skills in autistic students by talking with the person in charge of the group, consulting with teachers and other parents of special needs children, and being supportive and encouraging of their children's participation.