When children have positive experiences outdoors as part of their everyday lives, they become more well-adjusted children who are smarter, healthier and happier. They also have a vested interest in becoming future stewards of our great Mother Earth, according to Richard Louv’s ground-breaking book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature
For autistic children, this time is even more critical. After an academic year that has forced them to learn in a highly structured environment, these children need a chance to experience the restorative benefits, like better focus and less mental fatigue that can happen from being outdoors.
To make sure your backyard is a safe place where your child can connect with nature, here are some safety tips and ideas.
Build a Fence
According to the National Autism Association, 49 percent of children with ASD have wandered from a safe setting and this makes outdoor play a potential risk. To help make sure your child is safe in your backyard, erect a fence.
Protect a Pool
Studies have shown that children with autism are at an increased risk of drowning, so it’s important to take precautions if you do have a pool. First, be sure your pool has an alarm that will alert you if someone enters the pool without your knowledge. Second, invest in some swim lessons.
Create a Soothing Area
Being outdoors and experiencing all the sights and sounds that go along with it can quickly cause over-stimulation. Make sure to create an outdoor space where your child can escape.
Sensory Play Ideas
Build a Sandbox
According to a study on sand-play, children who engaged in activities in sand saw an increase in verbal expression, were able to sustain long periods of social interaction and improved their abilities to be spontaneous and engage in novel play. Build your child a simple sandbox that they can spend time in.
Install a Hammock
Hammocks provide a wrap-around sensory feeling that helps children with autism re-center, not to mention the other benefits of swinging. You can purchase a stand with a hammock for a deck or patio, a hammock chair, or a portable hammock that you can use in the backyard and take to the park.
Plant a Garden
Gardening is a way that children can get valuable input into their muscles and joints. It’s also proven to help children increase their attention spans. Start with a small herb garden or a small vegetable garden, or find some flower seeds that you can plant and water together. Make it more special and purchase a set of matching gardening gloves for mom and child.
Ideas For Socialization
Stage a Play
A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that acting can help children with autism improve their social competency. In other words, they will be able to interact with their peers better. Get together a group of friends, gather up some costumes and put on a play.
Sleep Under the Stars
Head to the backyard and pitch a tent for a night under the stars with the whole family. Spontaneous family time is great for some children with autism for others you’ll want to plan this in advance.
Have a Picnic Area
Invest in a backyard picnic table where you can enjoy picnics as a family, plan picnics with your child’s friends, or make messy outdoor art projects. Picnics are a great place for everyone to unplug and have quality time talking and laughing.
Make this summer about helping your child relax and recoup from the effects of time spent in a rigid classroom. You can do this by creating a thoughtful and engaging space, where they can relax and have fun. Next step? Invite a few friends over so your child has a chance to see that even though they have learning differences, they’re a lot like their pals.