Ten Gross Motor Activities for Autistic Children

Young girl marches in meadow

Explore ten gross motor activities for autistic children that can strengthen muscles while developing valuable skills. Many choices are readily available for parents and professionals working on meeting gross motor goals in a child's treatment plan. Some activities are challenging while others are pure fun.

List of Ten Gross Motor Activities for Autistic Children

The ten gross motor activities for autistic children include activities that improve social skills while improving gross motor development.

1. Marching

Marching is a simple gross motor activity that can develop a number of different skills. The task takes walking one step further as children have to imitate the steps. Encourage the child to begin with the leg movements in place, followed by stepping and arm movements.

2. Jump on a Trampoline

A trampoline is the king of gross motor activities for kids with autism. The bouncing motion offers excellent sensory input that can be very helpful in alleviating sensory overload and anxiety in many cases. Some children may demonstrate fewer repetitive movements after engaging in the jumping activity and it can help some kids to calm and organize their behavior.

3. Play Ball

Simple things can be a great source of pleasure for a child and among the most impressive is a ball. Playing catch may not be realistic as a beginning step but you can work your way up catching over time. Begin by rolling a ball back-and-forth with your child. This simple task develops important eye tracking skills and it can encourage motor planning as the child follows the movement of the ball. Other activities include:

  • Kickball
  • Dribbling
  • Bouncing on a ball
  • Bounce and catch
  • T-ball

4. Balancing

Balancing can be very challenging for kids on the autism spectrum and many gross motor tasks demand a good sense of balance. Test to see if your child can stand motionless with her eyes closed without losing balance to gauge how much work is necessary to develop balancing skills.Begin with having your child walk on a line followed by walking on balance beams. Balancing toys like a rocking see saw can improve skills.

5. Bicycles and Tricycles

Bikes for autistic children don't have to be made especially for kids on the autism spectrum, but some augmented bikes can benefit many. Tricycles and bicycles can help develop balance as well as leg muscles. The task requires the ability to move while focusing on where the bike is going, which can be challenging.

6. Dance

The New York Times article Dance Helps Autistic Children illustrates the importance of this fun motor activity. Parents and therapists can use dancing with music to encourage imitation and it can be a great way to teach daily living skills. Dance ideas include:

  • Clean It Up
  • Freeze Dance
  • Brush Your Teeth
  • Wiggle the Sillies Out

7. Pretend Play

Young Boy Ready to Travel with Suitcase

Pretend play is a considerable challenge in many cases of autism and kids can benefit from moving around while developing their imaginations. Ideas for pretend play that uses motor skills include:

  • Fly like an airplane
  • Hop like a bunny
  • Dress up

8. Box Step

Few things are as impressive as a simple cardboard box when it comes to creating fun activities for children. Encourage your child to step in and out of short box as a beginning task. Gradually make the tasks more challenging by creating step patterns and by using deeper boxes.

9. Tunnel Crawl

Crawling through a tunnel can be an extremely enjoyable activity as the child uses motor skills while developing a sense of object permanence. Incorporate social skills into the activity using peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek, and pretend play.

You don't have to buy a tunnel toy to enjoy the crawling activity. Align boxes to create a tunnel or build one using chairs and blankets. The tunnel activity can be transformed into different things, from a train to a campsite.

10. Obstacle Course

An obstacle course is an outstanding activity for improving gross motor skills. The course does not have to be complex to be effective. In fact, parents and therapists can begin with a course consisting of one step and gradually introduce additions to the activity. Simple ideas for an obstacle course include:

  • Crab walk
  • Frog jump
  • Ball toss
  • Jump rope
  • Walk a line
  • Climb over objects
  • Beanbag toss

Obstacle course stations offer an opportunity to use different gross motor tasks and they can be excellent sequencing activities for kids. The activity is a great way to reach treatment plan goals that involve following directions.

Create a Gross Motor Plan

Movement activities can be a source of anxiety for many kids on the spectrum. Offer guidance and support by introducing activities gradually. Begin with the least threatening tasks followed by tasks that are more challenging and make sure that the activities you introduce are appropriate to your child's developmental level to ensure that the target motor skills are realistic.

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Ten Gross Motor Activities for Autistic Children