Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism: Structured Playtime Activities

Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism: Structured Playtime Activities

Do you know that what most of us look forward to at the end of our day’s work is not even understood by a segment of our population?  We look forward to our leisure activities, we plan carefully for them, we save money to pay for the expenses they entail, and we often include loyal friends to enjoy this time together.  For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families or caregivers, this unstructured time is a difficult time.  The nature of autism limits the development of leisure interests and skills. Even for some individuals on the autism spectrum, the concept of leisure activities is difficult to understand. Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism: Structured Playtime Activities with Valuable Support Strategies for Adults  by Phyllis Coyne, Colleen Nyberg, and Mary Lou Vandenburg is a detailed guide with comprehensive, structured strategies to help adults introduce meaningful, leisure activities to children with ASD.

We are updating this post, October 20th 2016 to tell you about “Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Revised & Expanded 2nd Edition by Colleen Nyberg, Mary Lou Klagge, and Phyllis Coyne.

Revisions and Additions in the Second Edition

The understanding of ASD and leisure engagement has grown, since the first edition of this book was published in 2000. This revised and expanded edition provides the most up-to-date information on ASD and leisure pursuits and reflects some of the major changes in the field.

The following provides a sample of the new information contained in this edition:

  • up-to-date review of the literature on leisure and individuals with ASD;

  • expanded information on how to apply the three Components of Leisure Development;

  • latest evidence-based practices;

  • more real life examples for the three individuals featured in this book, who span childhood to adulthood and the full autism spectrum;

  • new and expanded appendices;

  • more assessment tools;

  • revised Activity Cards.

About Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism: Structured Playtime Activities with Valuable Support Strategies for Adults

We read of parents of young children with autism who cannot find a few minutes for themselves or doing household tasks because their child simply cannot entertain himself appropriately.  The purpose of this book is to assist parents, teachers and all who work with individuals with autism to develop leisure interests and skills for home, school, and community. The method used is to narrow down the personal preferences and strengths of these individuals and use this knowledge to assist them to be more independent and self-directing in participating in more enjoyable and meaningful leisure activities. The authors have carefully tailored activities that require minimal supervision. Others broaden the child’s horizon or experiences by taking him to the park, the zoo, skating, bowling, listening to music, and many more!

The Book’s Content

The material in Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism is designed for varying ages and severity of autism. The first half of the book provides forms and charts to better understand the individual’s traits, interests and needs to arrive at an individualized plan to develop competencies in leisure. The large format of the book, the size of my telephone book, makes it possible to have the charts and forms each on one page ready to use.  Future Horizons grants the purchaser of the book permission to make copies for educational purposes.

First Part of the Book

The first sixty-five pages are rather complicated and not written for the average parent who is usually pressed for time and whose reading time is often cut short because of interruptions or exhaustion after another harrowing day.  If the reader takes the time to read carefully the first part, the information surely proves this book is needed because without intervention, many people with autism do not know they have free time, do not know how to occupy themselves with appropriate activities, and do not know when work or study must resume. I also learned:

  • Individuals with autism seldom learn through informal observation or through imitation of their friends and families.
  •  They may not understand the intended use or purpose of leisure materials.
  • If they learn a certain skill, they may not be able to generalize this skill to another toy or similar activity.
  • Individuals with autism need to be exposed, in a structured manner, to a wide variety of experiences and activities to develop broader interests.

Book’s Format

Probably for cost reasons, there are no photos or color on any pages which many readers appreciate. The use of various shades from black to grey and different fonts to highlight headings on the charts and forms are effective. Also the pencil sketches on the Activity Cards are very helpful.

As a teacher, I would have appreciated to have Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism on my resource shelf. I can easily see all the work that went in the preparation of the numerous lists, charts, and forms. Unfortunately there is something missing that makes it difficult to quickly locate information in the book.

There is no Index which I usually find so useful. The Table of Contents does not have enough sections or subtitles to make easy retrieval of information. The best part of this book, for a caregiver, is the forty or so Activity Cards but they do not have a page number. To find a particular Activity Card, The Table of Contents directs you to Appendix C. Appendix C tells you to go to Chapter 5 for information on the cards. Appendix C’s first page has the index for the Activity Cards divided in the six areas they cover with the seven or so subtitles for each area. In the end, to find a certain Activity Card, you must flip the pages one by one to find the one you want. The page numbers, which are there, are in the middle of the page; if the numbers were at the outer edges of each page it would be easier to use. Sounds confusing? It is!

Second Part of the Book

The Activity Cards, on the other hand, are carefully written. Every detail of an activity is clearly explained and the consistent format of each card makes them easy to use.  Once the reason(s) for the activity, and the material needed and the general rules of thumb have been listed, the authors have four other headings:

  • Choices:  How the child can learn to choose from the options listed.
  • Do It Yourself:  Activities to encourage independence.
  • And Furthermore: Other modifications or adaptations depending on child’s skill level.
  • Cautions: Reminds adult to possible trouble areas within activity.
  • Visual Story: The activity’s sequence in written form much like a Social Story.
  • Visual Presentation: Sketches providing visual information for the activity.

In closing, the authors did a thorough job to make free time fun for kids with autism spectrum disorders. All the information caregivers want to develop leisure activities for individuals with autism can be found in their book Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism. My only suggestion is for the next edition to have an easier way of locating this great information quickly.

About the Authors:

From Future Horizons, “The authors have each worked in the field of autism for over twenty years. This experience, along with backgrounds in therapeutic recreation, special education, general education, and psychology, provide the foundation for the development of the concepts and approaches presented in Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism.

Phyllis Coyne, MS, has been an autism consultant to school districts for over twenty years. She is the co-author of three books on autism spectrum disorders. During this time, she has trained and consulted with thousands of staff and parents in effective techniques for supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Previous to being an Autism Specialist and special education teacher, Phyllis worked in inclusive outdoor adventure recreation, coordinated a model demonstration project on recreation for adolescents with developmental disabilities, and was a Therapeutic Recreation consultant in North Carolina and Oregon. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Therapeutic Recreation Society, the editorial board of the Journal of Leisurability, and the Leisure Committee of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH).Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Revised & Expanded): Practical Strategies for Home, School & the Community Paperback by Colleen Nyberg, Mary Lou Klagge , Phyllis Coyne


  • Developing Leisure Time Skills for Persons with Autism: Structured Playtime Activities with Valuable Support Strategies for Adults by Phyllis Coyne, Colleen Nyberg, and Mary Lou Vandenburg: 


Review of Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Revised & Expanded 2ndEdition by Phyllis Coyne, Colleen Nyberg, and Mary Lou (Vandenburg) Klagge

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.