Independent Play for Kids: Bathtub Fun

Being a working parent is demanding.  Being a working parent with your kids home all day is demanding squared.  Being a working parent with your kids home all day when your child does not have a lot of independent play skills is relentless

For parents of children who require a lot of supervision, there are a number of activities that many children can do independently, and that may provide you a few minutes to yourselves.  For kids who enjoy messy, sensory fun, here are some fun activities that you can contain in a very washable location: the bathtub.   

Many of the activities you might normally do on an activity table or in the yard can be converted to the tub.  When play time is over, you can turn on the water for easy clean up of your child and the play area.


Bathtub paint is available online, or make your own by mixing liquid hand soap, cornstarch, and food coloring.  Let your kiddo paint the entire bathtub, with brushes or their fingers, whatever they like!  Use food coloring if your child is apt to get some in his/her mouth; use liquid watercolor if you’re concerned about staining clothes. 


If you don’t know about oobleck, it is a magical substance that feels solid to the touch, but becomes a liquid when you pick it up,  Add food coloring or liquid watercolor and it’s the coolest, messiest thing around.  I like to make a humongous bowl of it, putting one liquid watercolor on one side of the bowl and another color on the other side of the bowl; as they play with it, the colors swirl and change and mix and are truly mesmerizing.  Again, your own circumstances dictate whether food coloring or liquid watercolors are best for your family.

Edible playdough

There are many different recipes online –  choose the one that fits your kid’s allergy situation.  Here are my favorites:


Slime is always sensory fun, and there are a number of different types of recipes. 

    • Borax-free slime is made with fiber powder, so although eating it would not be good on the tummy, it is safe for kids who might give it a small taste. 
    • Gummy Bear slime is safer to eat, but it’s chock full of sugar, so careful of the sugar-crazies!
    • Borax-free and sugar free slime recipe, try this one that uses Jello.


For children who get excited by foaming bubbles, let them create miniature volcanoes in the bathtub.  Line up a bunch of paper cups in the tub and fill them half-way with vinegar.  Drop in some color, either food coloring or liquid water color.  Show your child how to put a spoonful of baking soda into one cup – and watch the eruption!  Exciting, non-toxic fun.   

Last, just a reminder that for kids who like water-play, actual baths are always an option for a family stuck in the house.  Now, you don’t want to leave your children alone in a bathtub full of water, but if your kid is able to play in the water safely while you are supervising, you might be able to get in a phone call or two.  If you want to mix things up, check out bathtub color tablets, different colored/scented bubble-baths, or (my kids’ favorite): water beads.  Please note that water beads are not edible, and only appropriate for children who will not ingest them.  Pre-soak the water beads first so they get plump and as big as a marble, and dump a bunch in the tub.  For kids who like to taste all of their toys, dump a container of blueberries in the water instead! They are the same size as water beads and also float!  Other novel floatable fun objects include bars of soap, apples, corks, sponges, and ice cubes.

Here’s hoping that at least one of these ideas will spark delight in your kiddo’s eyes and give you a few minutes to breathe. 

Maintaining Skills For Children with Autism During COVID-19

By Ronit Molko, PhD, BCBA-D

The Covid-19 response requiring nationwide social distancing and sheltering in place has curtailed or eliminated opportunities for one-on-one or group ABA activities in centers and schools. That has left many parents of children on the autism spectrum wondering how to maintain the gains their children have made in ABA therapy. Because the current conditions will almost certainly persist into late Spring and possibly beyond, we want to help parents adapt to these new conditions as soon as possible.

Maintain Structure

The current situation is obviously sub-optimal, but there are strategies parents can employ to sustain their children’s forward momentum. The first is to recognize that the current measures represent a drastic disruption in the child’s routine and that establishing a new routine as soon as possible is important. This routine should adhere as closely as possible to the existing home-school routine with which the child has become comfortable. We all need some level of structure to function well- structure provides emotional safety as well as freedom.

Utilize Telehealth

Although the effort to minimize human-to-human contact has taken in-person ABA services off the table in many communities, many behavioral health providers are moving to telemedicine and online services using video conferencing and video calling apps. The number of these is expected to grow in the first few weeks of sheltering at home, so parents should access their providers for remote support and guidance.

Opportunities to Use ABA

ABA therapy is a repetitive command-response-reward learning system that develops a variety of skills, including communication, hygiene, play, sharing and other activities of daily living. They can be reinforced with everyday activities within the the new home-life routine.

Morning Routine

The morning routine might not have to vary at all, even without school. The child still must wake, wash, dress, brush teeth and eat breakfast, in the same order and at the same time as before. Parents should emphasize to their children the importance of personal hygiene and this is an excellent opportunity to teach the hand-washing and tooth brushing phases of this routine.

If the child normally has the option to choose what they want for breakfast, parents should maintain that choice and require the child to communicate it as before, and be rewarded with the option they choose. Veering off these routines can cause distress for children with autism.

Learning While Having Fun

It’s important to remember that many skills can be taught during typical daily activities and routines at home, as well as during times of play and fun. For example, baking together with your child provides the opportunity to teach and practice math, follow directions (a recipe) and the daily living skills of cleaning up.


Communication, playing and sharing skills can all be reinforced through play, for which there are myriad options even from home. Scholastic magazine offers free online lessons “built around a thrilling, meaningful story or video,” according to its website. These lessons can be adapted for children with autism and completed at the child’s pace. Scholastic will release 20 weeks of lessons designed to take three hours apiece.

Virtual Excursions

Various zoos now offer live video online of animals in their habitats. Discussion and play can be developed around the identities of the animals, the sounds they make and what the child can see them doing. Among the zoos with webcams are the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Seattle, Houston, San Diego, Maryland and Memphis. The penguin exhibit at the Kansas City Zoo is particularly fun and active.

Creativity Time

Art activities help children express their creativity while exercising some of their learned skills. Collaborative projects among children can be used as a springboard to practice sharing and communicating. Parents can focus on tactile art projects that fit the needs of their child, using household items like food dye, macaroni, sponges, shaving cream, toilet paper rolls and much more.

Make Time for Play

There are many other play activities that parents can employ to engage children with autism (and neurotypical children!) and reinforce the skills they have learned in therapy. These might include board games, exercise and sports, and computer games. Whatever the activity, communication with the autistic child should make clear what is expected and reward constructive responses.

Lunch and Dinner

Lunch and dinner times and routines should be maintained while the child is home. Involving an older autistic child in food preparation is a way to develop life skills while practicing sharing, communication, etc. Bedtime routines should be strictly maintained for the emotional comfort of the child.

Parents are their children’s first teachers and continue in that role for their entire childhoods. With a little creativity, parents of children with autism can find enjoyable, everyday moments to reinforce their children’s lessons from therapy.

Crisis Support for Families

By Rebecca Mandal-Blasio, PhD, BCBA-D

It is Thursday morning and I just received the 4th frantic phone call from a family member of a child with autism. These are parents who are desperate to find crisis services for their child. These are not families who already have our ABA services, these are family members who did not have any services. Others were on waitlists to receive ABA, and sadly others’ ABA providers hav closed their doors during this time. As I talk to these family members, I refer them to agencies I hope can help, but the reality is crisis services for children with autism are often hard to find even when there is not a pandemic occurring.

So what can families do whose children are not use to the major disruption to their routines due to their school or learning center bing closed and added the social disruptions caused staying at home and social distancing? The limited explanation or understanding about why these changes have occurred can lead to stressful feelings that may manifest as irritability, tantrums, aggression or self-injury. Ultimately, family members understandably become fatigued and frustrated as they do the best they can in a hectic situation.

Here are a few tools/tips to best support and guide your family during this time and  to help prevent crisis from occurring.

  1. Explain what is currently happening: Children need to know why there are closures or why they can not go outside. Keep it as simple as possible, but explain in concrete terms….in black and white. Having “gray explanations” and using abstract words or concepts will only make a confusing situation worse.

  2. Social Stories: Often times ABA therapists and families utilize social stories to help explain stressful situations such as going to the dentist or getting a haircut. A social story could be a useful tool in explaining what, how and why they can not leave the house and go to the park they used to go to every day. Many autism websites will help provide tips on how to write these stories that could be reviewed each day. If your child is able to assist you with writing a social story, it is great opportunity for an afternoon activity too. Click here for example.

  3. Try to keep a schedule: This may be hard to do given our schedules are not predictable each day, but making the child’s schedule as predictable as possible will help calm stressful feelings. This can be accomplished by using a visual or word schedule to make their routine predictable. As the child completes one activity have them put the picture in an envelope or cross the activity off of the paper. Helping set up a schedule for your child will also help put a routine in place for you as well. Ideally, this would as similar as possible to the schedule the child had before the restrictions of the COV-19 were in place (i.e., wake and bed times, bath times, eating times). Don’t put pressure upon yourself to create an elaborate schedule. A simple schedule will be just as effective. If changes need to happen in the schedule, review the changes with your child to prepare them that their routine won’t be as predictable on that particular day.

  4. New Skills: New skills may need to be taught using task analysis. For example, hand washing more frequently, the new way to greet people with out shaking hands, using hand sanitizer, or keeping 10 feet away from others may be new skills that should be taught during this time. Breaking these activities into smaller steps and rewarding each step completed will lead to the child learning these new skills. Choosing their favorite song to wash their hands to or setting a timer to indicate when they can stop washing should be considered. Again, no pressure on creating these task analyses….there are many websites that are available for free to help parents create these during this event. Click here for example.

  5. Everybody needs a break: Down time is a good thing for everyone. Watching a show on tv or tablet, reading a book, counting beads, or taking a nap is necessary for all of us during stressful times. Exercise or going for a walk outside are also good activities. Down time allows us to escape from the stress and recharge ourselves so that we can face the new activities of our lives.

  6. Identifying triggers: You might be aware of the regular triggers that upset your child, however, new triggers during this time may be developing. Observing your child to see what triggers or antecedents proceed challenging behaviors will be vital in decreasing stressful times in your household. If you can identify these triggers, remove or minimize them around your child. But sometimes this is not possible which leads to #7.

  7. Coping skills: Determining the activities or skills your child has to self-manage or calm themselves down will be a must in at this time. Counting to 10, deep breathing, touching a sensory item, or behavior relaxation are some ways children have been taught coping skills. If your child does not have coping skills, having a quiet place to calm down will be necessary. A dim room, maybe a circulating fan for a cool breeze, soft relaxing music, access to sensory calming items may be used to create the perfect calm place. The quiet place needs to be individualized for your child’s preferences and what he or she finds relaxing.

Where to Access Help in a Crisis
  1. State agencies: Many states have agencies that specifically work with individuals with developmental disabilities. These agencies have psychologists who have experience in providing behavioral services. Often they have crisis teams that work in conjunction with mental health agencies that can help during dangerous or extremely stressful times. Local parent groups can often be great resources for this type of information, like this example from the Phoenix Autism Society website. 

  2. Mental Health Clinics: If your child is currently being seen by a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist should be notified that a crisis is occurring. Emergency office visits or telehealth appointments can be set up to get medication guidance during this times.

  3. If a child is an imminent risk to themselves or others, hospitalization may be unavoidable. Working with a psychiatrist will help you in locating in-patient mental health services. Child specific hospital emergency rooms may not have as many COV-19 emergencies that can assist if hospitalization is necessary.

Know that you don’t have to do it all alone.  Connect to family and friends when possible or with other parents on community pages on social  media.  With support and quality resources, you will get through this challenging time and back on track.