Water Play and Playgrounds: Navigating Summer Activities for Children with Autism

Lindsay earned a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy from Univ. of Pittsburgh

The nice weather is here, offering a wonderful opportunity to have some fun with your League School student. Lindsay Wagner, who has worked for 12 years as a League School Occupational Therapist, recommends getting outside to expand your child’s abilities while also enjoying time together.

Water Play

The sensory impact of water is irresistible. The feel, look, sound, and smell provide multiple stimuli for everyone, but especially for a child on the autism spectrum. Lindsay notes that swimming provides proprioceptive input, soothing the joints and muscles. Its calming effect is also positive. Water play is beneficial for creative play, which is a challenge for children on the autism spectrum. As with most activities, be sure to talk with your child about water safety before going, and keep a close eye on your child.

Bring along squeeze and scooping toys for water play. “Making bubbles helps with inhaling and exhaling, which many children with sensory issues have trouble modulating,” Lindsay says. “As a result, bubbles have a calming effect.” Scooping and pouring water strengthens fingers and improves eye/hand coordination.


“Get out to different playgrounds to encourage exploration, discovery, and body movement,” Lindsay suggests. Interactive play teaches socialization skills. Playgrounds also foster exploration and discovery. If you have access to a variety of equipment, it helps children develop problem solving skills and confidence. “Jumping, climbing, swinging, and hanging give input to the inner ear, which is calming,” says Lindsay.

Before You Go

Lindsay suggests “previewing” before heading to a water or playground area. “Let your child know the rules before you go,” she says. “Provide instructions and let your child know the limits.” Suggested talking point examples include:

  • We can stay for one hour
  • Keep our hands to ourselves
  • Have fun

League School Free Play Time

In keeping with our Social Communication and Emotional Regulation through Transactional Supports (SCERTS®) Program, The League School holds Water and Free Play Time for students every Thursday and Friday throughout the summer. Learn more about this ground-breaking program.

Tim McCabe, Director of Development.

Tim McCabe

Tim McCabe is the Director of Development for League School of Greater Boston.