What are some joint activities I can do together with my autistic son?
December 1, 2019 3:22 AM   Subscribe

He likes cars and tools. I get him every other weekend. More inside...

He's ten, and only mildly autistic. He's verbal, and intelligent, but also stims sometimes and is awkward socially.

I share custody, and get him every other weekend, when I'm not offshore. He plays videogames a lot, and I've done that with him, but it often ends up feeling like we're not really having a good time. I'd like to do something with him where we can work on it together, and he can take the lead as much or as little as he would like.

He LOVES wrenching on stuff, like engines. I had him help me take a few bolts off a lawnmower, and he really liked that. I've looked at Go-Kart kits, but they're pretty steep. I'm not sure he'd like working on a model airplane or ship, but I'll give that a try.

Are there any other things you can think of I might try?
posted by atchafalaya to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe some of the kits from KiwiCo would work?
posted by gnutron at 4:11 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rebuild a car together. It will take years, be a slow investment, but connect you both in a lifelong activity. Could also do this with a small boat. Some charities may help you get a car for free. Get a repair car cheap, preferably stick shift, and rebuild it piece by piece. Could be something to have additional parents and friends around for in very small groups so he can socialise at his own pace. Involve him in removing all the screws, bolts and nuts and learning how to put a car together and take it apart again. Who knows, he might learn to drive in it.
posted by parmanparman at 4:31 AM on December 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

I don’t know if you have Home Depot around you AND if they have weekend “make with a parent” classes AND if those classes don’t skew too young. AND if the socialness would be too much for him. But that’s an option potentially?
posted by kellygrape at 5:13 AM on December 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Taking long walks together with a purpose....
Bird watching, bug watching, animal tracks, tree identification by bark and leaves, cloud identification, star gazing, meteor showers, phases of the moon.
Architectural styles in houses. Automotive identification in the neighborhood or vehicles passing by. Observing pets and other animals.
Visiting with neighbors. Stopping by local stores to browse. Getting a bite to eat or a beverage.
Do the same on bicycles, skateboards or roller skates. Take a camera and take photos of the same tree each month for a year.

This doesn't need to be a long walk (unless you both take up running as a pastime). It could be going to the post office to check the mail or deliver a bill. But it is an opportunity to spend some open-ended time together, and build a good exercise habit as well.
posted by TrishaU at 5:15 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Smaller scale than a go kart and more easily portable and put-away-able is electronics. This is my primary bonding area with my own son (a couple years younger than yours, but very engineering and computationally inclined). We've worked our way through a number of systems and projects. We have a Makey Makey and an Adafruit Circuit Playground Express and both have been hours of fun together. I've just recently introduced him to Arduino (this still mostly is me doing the work and explaining everything and him watching, but he's fascinated). Somewhere upstairs in a closet I have one if those old-school "make your own am radio" kits and a "learn to solder by making this simple electronic doodad" kit that I'll bring out once he's older.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:40 AM on December 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

Maybe model building/miniature painting for when working on cars is impractical due to weather, time, etc?

Loads of different types of models and there are many aspects to the hobby to keep it fresh.
posted by ian1977 at 5:42 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are a ton of robotics kits out there now, of varying levels of complexity. It's a rabbit hole you can go down really deep if you want as he gets older, in a couple of different directions (mechanical complexity, complicated controls, "intelligent" behaviors), or you can just hang out near the surface and make awesome-looking zippy things that zip around looking awesome, and any of those paths are fun.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:52 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

LEGO Technic sets might be good for this, also check with your local Maker community, if it exists.
posted by brand-gnu at 6:11 AM on December 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Model trains? Rod Stewart just finished working on a layout after 23 years.
posted by kate4914 at 9:09 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

> Taking long walks together with a purpose....

Geocaching. After a while you can hide your own cache. Some are just sandwich boxes under rocks, but some are intricate puzzles you have to solve to get them to open. I can find examples of those if you're interested.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:31 AM on December 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Could you buy old appliances like toasters or VCRs, and disassemble them? (Don’t do this with older tube televisions as they can electrocute you even when unplugged).

Making a lamp is really easy - YouTube has tutorials and the wire, socket, and plug together will run you $10 at the hardware store.

Buy cheap secondhand kids’ bikes or wagons, and take them apart?

You can get balsa wood building kits to make little rollercoasters for marbles for about $25.

Make little catapults and trebuchets out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands, and use them to fling erasers around the yard

Egg drop engineering! Make a little space suit (or landing pad) for an egg out of, say, 20 drinking straws and a metre of masking tape, or a sheet of newspaper and a stapler, or any other household random stuff... then drop the egg from shoulder height onto concrete and see if it survives. You can do it collaboratively at first and then compete against each other w same materials later, if he’s into that.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:47 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Car. Shows. There will be clubs for different kinds of cars. The cars will all be parked in rows. The owners generally love talking about their cars, what is stock and what is custom. There will be conversations about years, paints, parts, process. Basically if there is any particular aspect of cars that he’s especially interested in, he might find someone who can tell him where to read more.

Library. You go pick up a dozen books about cars, look through them together and talk about them. Unless he just wants to read them quietly and not talk about them. (This would be an Act of Service and possibly also Quality Time if you’re following along in the five love languages stuff, which is not just for romantic partners)

He might enjoy programming things that light up, you can get kits online.

Cooking together. Everyone who physically can needs to be able to feed themselves with healthy choices. So work on cracking eggs, mixing, timing. He might like Ruhlman’s book Ratio, which gives the formula for lots of things and tells you how to change them. So biscuits one week, pie or quiche another week, pancakes, cookies, then muffins, then move on to meats or veggies and then make biscuits and chicken and gravy all in one day. Talk about different kitchen tools, maybe talk about Alton Brown’s disdain for unitasker kitchen equipment.

You’re probably already doing this, but in case you’re not yet, involve him in all the stuff that makes a house run. I know it’s tempting to be the fun parent or to feel like you have to make the most of the limited time you get. But it will be a huge service to him to have what he’s learning at his primary home he reinforced with you. Send him home with his own clean laundry that he helped fold. Send extra cookies back with him with a nice note or picture he drew or photo of him cooking. Get him some practice managing the broom and the dustpan at the same time and talk about how it’s different than using a dustpan and brush. Wipe the counters together. Even just ten minutes a day of tidying up will go a long way.
posted by bilabial at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Watch freecycle.net, craigslist/free, fb marketplace. I frequently see riding mowers or other stuff posted that need some repair and they're free. Get a manual, give it a try. This will involve trips to hardware stores, looking stuff up, etc. that you can do together.
Read aloud. If you like books, it's a way to share.
Outdoors is a great idea. Your library will have books for identifying birds, trees, plants, minerals, stars. Some libraries loan stuff like telescopes.

Hang out. Watch movies, eat pizza, run errands, play video games, make browies, rake the lawn, plant a garden. Visits to Other Parent don't have to involve entertainment. Be family.
What do you love? Share that.
Look at pictures and videos. Maybe make a family history chart. Visit grandparents, aunt, uncles.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Broken things with motors are plentiful and free in most places. A multimeter, a soldering iron and youtube can fix a lot of issues, especially on older machines without electronics. There are also servicing manuals available for most consumer goods, though you might have to pay for them. And if he doesn't manage to fix them, they were broken anyway, so he hasn't made anything worse. If he does fix them, he could then onsell them to make some pocket money, if that interests him, or donate them.

By the time he's a teenager, you could start on a car.
posted by kjs4 at 4:09 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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