As the weather starts to warm, it’s natural to want to spend more time outside. Not only is it a place of fun and relaxation, but for autistic children, the outdoors can also be a stimulating space that can promote motor skills, social interaction and tactile sensory integration. Take advantage of the nice weather and encourage your child to spend time doing great outdoor activities. Here are some suggestions to consider.
Reduce Sensory Overload
Autistic children are prone to sensory overload. To help create an emotionally safe space for them, find a quiet area to be their space and obstruct their view of a busy street and neighborhood with trees or tall fences.
Give them a shady area that they can retreat to when they want some peace and quiet. Make sure you have some fixed furniture and elements in your backyard as the unpredictable can be intimidating for them. Having a few items that don’t change will help keep them comfortable.
Get Down in the Dirt
Gardening is an excellent activity to do with your child and can help them overcome any sensory issues. Slowly introduce them to a variety of textures from moist dirt to silky flower petals. Often gardening creates a quiet fascination with children and can help ease their anxiety.
This is also a great way to practice their ability to follow directions and can strengthen their social skills. Teach them how to use gardening gloves, proper tools and let them experience the joy and patience of watching something grow.
Break Out The Binoculars
Activities that the entire family can participate in are a great way to combine learning and education. Birdwatching is a great opportunity to do this and can be done from the safety of your own backyard.
Start by adding bird feeders to your backyard, or better yet make some together by rolling a pinecone in peanut butter and birdseed. Go Explore Nature encourages you to invest in a field guide and make a game of identifying the different birds. To further encourage the activity, get a pair of child-friendly binoculars or try going for a nature walk.
Set Up Camp
Backyard camping is the perfect balance of letting kids feel safe and secure while still creating a new experience. You do not need expert-level equipment for your own backyard. Parents Magazine recommends seeing what you have around your house first. You really only need a pop-up tent, some sleeping bags, a backpack and a flashlight.
Plan a night of activities and try to use the house as little as possible. Pack your dinner and clothes and try and settle in for the night. However, if your child is having difficulty sleeping and wants to go back in the house, that is OK. A good night’s sleep trumps an “authentic” outdoor camping trip.
Give Them Some Wheels
It is not uncommon for autistic children to have balance issues or difficulties not feeling in control, however, do not be discouraged from teaching them to ride a bike. It may just take more time and patience to do so. Bike riding can strengthen their motor skills, balance and sensory processing.
Keep the training wheels on until they have built up the muscles. Take your time to teach them to balance on their own. Hold on to the back of the bike until they feel comfortable with you letting go.
For many kids, being outside offers a sense of freedom and a chance to explore. This does not mean you let them run loose. They can still feel this within a restricted and safe environment; secure your backyard with a fence or safety barrier. Remember to supervise your children, as much for their own actions as for a car that they might not notice coming down the street.
There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. It offers a calming space where autistic children can explore, gain new skills and become more comfortable with their surrounding environment. Encourage outdoor play and do not hesitate to get involved. Let it be an opportunity to learn and bond.