If you have a child with autism spectrum, then you’re well aware of the challenges that come with heightened sensitivity (or sensory aversion), obsessive interests, repetitive gestures, loss of language and/or social skills, and a lack of interest in pretend play. In order to help combat some of these symptoms, it’s important that you create a safe home environment and make time for fun activities. There’s no better way to do that than by making sure your own backyard is functional, entertaining, and void of hazards. Here’s how to do just that.
Address Safety Issues
First and foremost, you’ve got to make sure your yard is safe, keeping in mind your child’s sensory sensitivities and general personality traits. If you’ve got a pool, install an alarm that goes off each time someone enters (or falls) into the pool without warning. Store a first aid kit near the pool and consider making sure everyone in your family is trained on CPR. Studies indicate that autistic children tend to wander, so consider installing a fence and place locks on any gates exiting the space. Worst case scenario, make sure they’re sporting an updated medical ID bracelet. When not in use, lock up all gardening and grilling equipment, including any caustic chemicals.
Plant a Sensory Garden
A sensory garden that encourages touching, tasting, hearing, and smelling can heighten awareness while promoting a positive learning experience for an autistic child. Plant shrubs that are strong enough to withstand frequent handling and are in a variety of textures such as fuzzy leaves, scratchy bark, and velvety flowers. Along with fragrant buds, aromatic herbs such as parsley, mint, tarragon, and thyme can encourage sniffing — and tasting.
Many autistic children enjoy being around water, and it can also have a calming effect. Ponds and fountains can provide a visual and audible appeal, but simple sprinklers or garden hoses can also have an impact. If your child is helping you with gardening activities like digging and planting, make sure everyone is outfitted with a good pair of gloves.
Set-Up Outdoor Games
Outdoor activities provide sensory and large movement stimulation, which is magnified by the mood-boosting effects of the sun, tranquil breezes, and the sounds of the great outdoors. Take advantage of pleasant weather by setting up a variety of backyard games such as an obstacle course with hula hoops, jump ropes, tires, and logs, or a treasure hunt comprised of natural elements such as pine cones, leaves, and flowers. Old-school games such as follow the leader, hide and seek, and Simon says also have a place here. Switch things up by spending time after dark by roasting marshmallows (just make sure to be mindful of fire safety), having an outdoor campout, or identifying the constellations in the nighttime sky.
Like eating properly, getting enough rest, and attending school, play is a crucial link to the development of children, including those with special needs such as autistic spectrum. Child’s play is not forced, therefore it encourages kids to develop natural instincts and a spontaneous nature while helping them mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. Just keep in mind that autistic kids may not realize they are too hot, so make sure your child hydrates before, during, and after their time spent outdoors. If they’re not used to spending a lot of time outside, start with shorter sessions before letting him/her spend their entire afternoon in the sunshine. Overstimulation can have a counterproductive side effect, so make sure you’re monitoring their behavior during playtime. And don’t forget to have fun!