Although kids on the autism spectrum may play games differently than peers in many ways, that doesn’t mean that they don’t still love playing. After all, play can mean many things, from collaborative board and tabletop games, to solo play with sensory bins and fidgets, to pretend play with action figures — whether or not a child has autism. However, one of the most important types of play is active play, especially for kids on the spectrum, who tend to get less physical activity overall than their typical peers. Be sure to check out the list of indoor activities for an autistic child.
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Unfortunately, finding ways for kids to stay active while indoors can sometimes feel like an impossible challenge, especially when kids have sensory processing difficulties that may make many activities feel uncomfortable for them. However, it’s a necessary challenge to conquer, especially for families in extra warm, cold or rainy places, who have to spend more time indoors than those in more temperate climates. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you, and we are happy to report that there are far more options than we would have ever thought for indoor active play & games with autistic kids!
How We Chose Indoor Activities for an Autistic child
There were a number of factors that we considered when we chose these active games and toys, including:
- Appropriate age range
- Relative difficulty
- Level of activity provided
While not every option on the list will work for every child, family, budget or living space, with a little time and patience, the good news is that there are many (many) awesome indoor active toys and games for kids with autism. This means finding the ones that make it easier to encourage getting up, and getting moving will likely be simpler than you might have thought!
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The 31 Best Indoor Activities for an Autistic Child
1. Indoor Obstacle Courses
Cost: Free to as expensive as you want to make them
A classic. There is almost no way to go wrong with an indoor obstacle course. They can be adapted for kids of many ages, they can be created with what you’ve got around the house, and when you time them, your kids will absolutely feel the burn (and so will you, so have your Advil ready).
2. Door Pong
This is a very cool game from Fat Brain Toys, a company that makes a ton of other very cool games. From their website:
“Attach the clamp to the top of any doorway, turn the dial to adjust the length of the string, and then serve up hours of active fun. Your goal is to hit the ball back to your opponent every time without missing. But more than a game, Door Pong is a fascinating, skill-strengthening activity that enhances hand-eye coordination, concentration, reflexes, cooperation, and more.”
3. Timed Pillow Fights
Cost: Free, unless you destroy all of your pillows
In my house, a timed pillow fight is just a pillow fight with a set time involved. Why the set time? Because in my house, my kids often like to take things just a BIT too far, and I find those timing activities that may cause issues when they go on too long is just the smart thing to do. Another bonus is that timing them makes it more likely that they’ll burn through a little more energy, faster, if they feel they have to go out of the gate BIG.
Cost: Spendy! Starts at $74.50 for a single section (and you’ll likely want more than one)
I realize this isn’t going to be affordable to most, but the idea is sound. At 10 and 12, my kids are still trying to find ways to make sliding down the stairs fun and pain-free, and I have to admit, if they were younger, I might consider investing in these. I have a feeling they would have used them for years.
5. Dance Party
Cost: Free to expensive as you want to make it
Things I have implemented at various times to make dance parties with my kids more interesting, and therefore, more likely that they will keep dancing:
Read More: What is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)?
Cost: Whew! Expensive with a list price of $199.95, but one of the best investments in indoor play I’ve seen families make, especially for kids with ADHD (and often, you can find it on sale)
The Gym1 includes a 6-piece set of the type of equipment you’d see on a playground, only you can set the pieces up one at a time in any average-sized doorway. The pieces include a swing chair, gymnastic rings, a hanging trapeze, a rope ladder, a swinging rope and a pullup bar. And yes, it absolutely does work! Just make sure you have the space on either side of the doorway to handle your kiddos swinging and flipping up a storm.
7. Simon Says
Cost: Totally free
Simon Says is a great option as instant activities go because it can be easily adapted in any number of ways, and can last for as long (or as little) as you think is appropriate. Some ideas for commands include, Simon Says…:
- Jump in place
- Touch something blue
- Hop on one foot
- Reach as high as you can
- Pretend to swim
…and so on and so forth. If you’re having a hard time coming up with more Simon Says commands, check out this list of over 200 ideas!
8. Crash Pad
Cost: From spendy ($149.95) to super spendy ($479.99) depending on size but DIY is possible
Crash mats and pads are awesome for kids with autism and ADHD, or any child who is sensory seeking, for that matter. But they’re expensive. However, for the vast majority of us who can’t afford them (or don’t have a rich grandparent to lean on), there are other solutions.
9. Indoor Fort-Building Games with Autistic Kids
Cost: Free to as expensive as you want to make it
The great thing about indoor play forts is that they’re a super creative game for kids with Autism. You can get super creative, as long as you’re willing to deal with some clean-up afterward. Chairs, couch pillows, bed pillows, actual couches, your ottoman, every blanket in the house and all of your couch cushions can be fair game, depending on your comfort level. You can even incorporate play tunnels, sleeping bags, air mattresses — really whatever you have lying around and are comfortable using.
For those who want a little more organization and a little less mess, there are also awesome (if not inexpensive) options that you can buy that let you build forts that are a bit more structured and often more compact.
Read more: Activities of Daily Living
10. Balance “Stepping Stones”
Cost: Free to as expensive as you want to get
There are so many different stepping stone games & toys out there to enhance autistic kids’ gross motor skills. From packages that are more like flexible balance beams, to more traditional rubber river rocks, there’s truly something for every need and space.
And, for those who aren’t ready or willing to shell out $70+ for a premade kit, there are even more ways to create indoor stepping stone paths for kids that are completely free using things you have around the house. I don’t know about you, but we have quite a few throw pillows that aren’t in the best shape. If you have a carpeted floor (don’t want them to slip!), tossing those pillows around and having kids use those to make paths is one way to go. Intersperse couch cushions as mini-”crash pads” and suddenly you’ve got something that’s just as cool, if not cooler, than anything you could buy.
11. Hide & Seek
Cost: Free and I have no idea how anyone would make this expensive, but who can say?
Personally, my kids’ favorite version is when they get to play it in the dark. We don’t have a basement at the moment, but their grandparents do, and it’s a big one. When we visit, my brother is known to gather up my 2 sons along with his own 3 kids, play some creepy Halloween-style music on his phone (current favorite is the Stranger Things soundtrack), and have them all hide in the dark while he seeks them out with a flashlight. Granted, this is definitely an older kid version of hide and seek, but they all love it, even at ages 10-14.
Additionally, I had no idea that there are so many variations of hide and seek out there, but there are. In fact, I found an article that details 15 different versions. If you need ideas, definitely check it out.
Read More: Moxie Robot Review
12. Bouy Ball Swing
Speaking of basements, if you have the space in yours to add something like this, I highly recommend it. If you find the right beam to hold the weight, your kids may never come upstairs again. I’ve even seen some parents put them in their kids’ rooms!
13. Pillow Baseball Games with Autistic Kids
Cost: Free unless you destroy your throw pillows
If you’ve never heard of pillow baseball, that’s okay, because it’s something I made up to play with my boys when they were about 2 and 4 years old. But they loved it so much that I figured I would share it here. Basically, I let both of them sit or stand on the couch, and I would sit on the floor as far away as I could, with a throw pillow. I’d let them take turns throwing a nerf-style ball at me which I would then “hit” back to them with the throw pillow. For whatever reason, this was absolutely HILARIOUS to them, especially because I had to dive around to hit it back. Then they had to run around to try and get the ball wherever I ended up hitting it. Lots and lots of silly, active, indoor fun to be had.
Caveat: This is probably obvious but do not play this around anything that could break, including your TV! While the pillow and ball are soft, you just never know what might end up accidentally knocked down or around.
Cost: $25-$40 depending on the size
I love these. If your kiddo has sensory processing disorder, as many kids with autism and ADHD do, they are amazing. They act as super stretchy cocoons that can help with self-soothing, balance, and spatial awareness. And they’re fun! Combine them with simple activities like obstacle courses, crash mats, or games of Simon Says for a very different take on any of these experiences.
15. Play Tunnels
Play tunnels are a classic way to help kids get more exercise while indoors, and the great part is that there are so many versions that there’s usually at least one to fit most budgets and most kids’ needs. For instance, there are mesh tunnels that allow kids to be able to see through them if they aren’t comfortable with the idea of being enclosed. There are extended play tunnels connected to ball pits for sensory play. Others form an X shape so multiple kids can play in them at the same time. Plus, most fold up and can be easily slid under a bed or a couch for storage.
Pro tip: Check local Facebook resale groups and other neighborhood selling boards — I’ve found them as cheap as $5 and still in great shape!
16. Hopper Balls
Cost: $15-$30 depending on size and brand
One of the great things about hopper balls is that they come in a range of sizes. They are even available in adult sizes, so we get to join in the fun, too! These are among some of my favorite games for autistic kids. They’re awesome for getting energy out indoors, while improving coordination and core strength.
These boards are fantastic because they can be used in so many different ways. For kids, you can play games, timing them to see who can stand on them the longest, or use them while they’re watching TV or playing a video game. Standing makes a huge difference in overall activity levels! On the flip side, adults can use them while working at a standing desk when the kids have moved on to something else. So while they can be a little more expensive than some of these ideas, they are also an investment in the health of the entire family.
Sometimes you just don’t want to think about how to keep kids busy. I love this deck because it gives parents and caregivers a little bit of a brain break (we need them too!). Each card gives an idea for a quick, active way to get your kids moving indoors, whether doing “frog hops” or sweeping the kitchen.
Cost: Can be expensive but so very worth it when possible. $50-$250
Trampolines have been some of the absolute best additions to our household over the years. From the 3 ft’ mins with handles, to the double bouncers for 2, the indoor 7 ft’ with net and the outdoor 15-footer we now have in our backyard (also with a net!) — these things have been life savers for our family when it comes to helping kids get the sensory input they need while getting their energy out. This is another item I’d highly recommend looking for used from local families! Kids outgrow the smaller ones quickly and there are many, many deals to be had.
20. Yoga Balls and Peanut Balls
Cost: $12-$40, depending on size and brand
There are many, many resources on how to keep kids active indoors using yoga and exercise balls. These articles cover activities for a wide range of ages and ability levels, most of which help kids develop their gross motor skills and core strength.
21. Percussion Instruments
Cost: Free to as expensive as you want to get
If you have wooden or plastic cooking utensils, older pots and pans, and cardboard boxes, then you have free percussion instruments (however, you might find that you need earplugs — if the noise is too much, I’ve also let my kids smack around the couch cushions and pillows, instead). If you’ve never seen a kid go at this sort of thing with a free license to rock out, then you may not understand the degree of exercise that is possible. But believe me, they will get their hearts racing when left to it.
For those who want to invest in some real instruments that still inspire movement, there are a huge range available, including multi-piece wooden sets and the giant floor keyboards like some of us might remember from the movie Big.
22. Floor Scooters
Many of us may remember these from gym class, but they are available for home, too! Floor scooters are great for hard indoor surfaces, and are generally appropriate for ages 6-12. Much like an exercise ball, they help kids develop better balance and gross motor skills, as well as core strength and great ideas for specific floor scooter activities abound online.
23. Teeter Popper
The Teeter Popper is generally a toy for younger kids due to its size, but as it can hold approximately 110 lbs, well. If your kid can fit, then they should probably feel free to go for it! Kids can sit, stand, spin, wiggle, squirm, tilt and wobble while suction cups grip the ground and pop up as they move. It encourages movement while developing coordination and core strength. This toy was an ASTRA Best Toy award winner and is another Fat Brain Toys original.
Cost: $5-$25 depending on how many are in a pack
Pool noodles are some of the most versatile toys you can keep in your house, and pool noodle sword fights are some of the best ways to help your kids burn off energy, and even a little aggression while they’re at it. If you want to be really silly and you have the space, let them have the entire noodle, all 52”, and have at it. If you need to save space, pool noodles are easily cut in half to create a truer sword-like length. Either way, be prepared for some exhausted kiddos, and if yours are anything like mine? Don’t forget to stick around to supervise!
25. Walking Wheels
Walking wheels are another Fat Brain Toys original and I’m not gonna lie, I want them for myself. They feature two rotating platforms and handles, and each step kids take on the platform rolls the wheels half a rotation forward. As they learn to maneuver them, they gain better balance, coordination, and gross motor skills while they have plenty of fun!
Cost: Expensive, starting at around $179 but can be $500+; however DIY is an option
Softscapes are an amazing tool to keep kids with ADHD and ASDs busy and active while indoors. Unfortunately, they can be pricey — very pricey. Plus, you need to have the available room to store them or even play with them. But, they are amazing for a basement or a playroom for those who have the money and environment to make them work.
For everyone else, once again, I present to you the humble couch cushion. My kids have made these into mountains, slides, tunnels — you name it. And when they’re done, they can just pop them back where they belong. As I mentioned above, my couch is a large sectional and the cushions on both the bottom and along the back are all removable, which gives them plenty of options with which to make their own, free, softscapes.
27. Chair Scooting Games with Autistic Kids
If you have a rolling office chair or stool and a hard-surface floor, then you, too, can experience the glory (and pain) that is a chair scoot. I discovered them while observing a physical therapy clinic one day as they’re used for rehabbing leg injuries. You can do them with one leg, or two, but beware… odd are your kids will beat you
28. Olly Balls
Cost: $16-$30 depending on the size and how many are in the pack
Olly Balls were essentially developed so that kids could play ball games indoors without breaking everything in their path and is a past TOTY Toy of the Year winner. They can play catch, soccer, volleyball — really whatever you might have told them before was an “outside only game.” Olly Balls weigh less than an ounce and are manufactured using a special type of construction that absorbs shock. While I still wouldn’t recommend using one in a small space or anywhere with a lot of things that can be knocked off of shelves or tables, if you have a basement, family room or kid’s room that can accommodate active play, try it! They can be a fun indoor activities for autistic child!
This card deck is wonderfully adaptive and great for quick breaks that still promote activity. There are 40 cards in each deck, and each features a different yoga pose that can be completed while seated in a regular chair.
30. DIY Floor “Air Hockey” Game for Autistic Kids
Cost: $20+ but can probably be made with household items
I love love love this idea for floor air hockey from a Pinterest user. You’ll need those leftover pool noodles here, as well as painter’s tape to secure them to the ground, bean bags (the pucks) and decently-sized plastic bowls for the paddles.
31. Simple & Quick Games to Get Autistic Kids Moving
- Move and Freeze
- Rock, Paper Scissors with Whole Body Motion
- Jumping Jacks
- Running in Place
- Jumping in Place
- Resistance Band Tug-of-War
- Hula Hooping
- Sport/Speed Stacking
- Cardio Drumming (using yoga balls or cushions)
And if you’re looking for even more indoor activities for autistic child? Check out the Autism Fitness Handbook for a detailed fitness guide that requires minimal equipment and provides detailed instruction for all included exercises.
Goally | Fun Games for Kids & Screen Time Limits for Parents
Looking for ways to improve your child’s finger dexterity skills in a fun way while also keeping screen time manageable? Try Goally’s skill building tablet for kids— it has a bunch of fun & motor planning games!
Our Game Garage app is a parent-controlled space filled with entertaining (but parent-controlled) video games that kids can play. It can also be used as an incentive for them to stay on task with daily routines and develop independence. Plus, it helps kids understand when to end screen time without negotiating.
Setting screen time limits is easy! Parents choose the time of the day when play is allowed, and the amount of time (like 60 minutes). Once the time is up, Petey the Penguin guides your child “back to Earth” and makes the transition easier.
Checkout our distraction-free device (which ONLY has Goally on it) for $149, ensuring a focused but fun experience for your child.
Why Indoor Activities for Autistic Child is Important
Autistic kids benefit from and active play as much if not more than their typical peers. While exercise is important for all children, it’s especially important to encourage when a child has an ASD. One reason is that children with autism are nearly five times more likely than their typical peers to develop obesity, which can put them at greater risk for more health issues, like high blood pressure and diabetes. But there are other reasons to get autistic kids playing games and moving. For instance, a review of literature in the journal Palaestra found a wide range of positive outcomes — cognitive, social, physical and behavioral — associated with regular physical activity when children with ASDs are encouraged to play actively.
This post was originally published on 08/30/2022. It was updated on 10/03/2023.