Creating an Outdoor Haven for Your Autistic Child
We all know the importance of fresh air, exercise, and learning through play, but how can parents of children on the autism spectrum create an accessible and functional outdoor play space that helps them balance fun with safety?
Municipal playgrounds that are specially designed with the autistic child in mind often incorporate balance, movement, and visual stimulation.
Since it may not be practical to go the park every day, these are all elements that, fortunately, you can bring to your very own backyard, with the added benefit of being specifically tailored to your child’s abilities.
You’ll have greater peace of mind and be able to enjoy your backyard haven with your child if you take some of the following important safety precautions:
● Consider installing fencing around the perimeter of your yard. This is a practical consideration for anyone with young children, but especially for those on the autism spectrum, who may be prone to wandering or have a lesser understanding of the dangers of traffic, stray animals, or strangers.
● Place motion alarms on doors, windows, and gates to alert you when they are being opened. Keep these locked if appropriate, with keys out of the reach of children.
● Keep outdoor storage units secured, to protect your child from hazardous materials or tools that are not yet appropriate for their ability.
● Create a barrier around any outdoor units that have fan blades or become hot to the touch.
● Use rubber mulch or foam in the play area to insulate against falls.
Consider Your Child
You know your child best, so when creating a safe outdoor play space, be sure to focus not only on their current interests but also on areas where you would like to see growth. Try offering familiar activities that are appealing to them, while gradually introducing them to new experiences.
Sensory Play and Fine-Motor Skills
The outdoors provide plenty of opportunities for your child to engage in sensory play as well as develop gross motor skills. Take bubble-catching to a whole new level by using scented soap to engage the sense of smell, and use various tools to create different sizes. Perhaps you could practice sorting various nature items you can find in your backyard such as rocks, flowers, and leaves. Children also learn by creating, and a sandbox provides an excellent place for them to build, dig, design, destroy, and reimagine! Some children could spend hours here, so the ideal sandbox will have clean sand, shade, comfortable seating, and a variety of sand toys. You can even take indoor activities outside such as fingerpainting, blocks, or board games.
Just Add Water
Most children are drawn to water, and introducing children to water activities at a young age can help them become accustomed to the water. Experts also encourage parents to enroll their children in swimming lessons, as it will teach them important safety skills, provide beneficial exercise, and improve overall coordination.
After learning water safety, consider adding a pool, an outdoor water play table, fun sprinklers, or a water toy and bucket station to provide your child with an opportunity to scoop, pour, and splash!
Just keep an eye on children as they play, as drowning is a risk in even a few centimeters of water, and empty out all standing water once playtime is over.
Even if you’ve taken all the steps to provide a secure home and a safe yard, the possibility remains that your child may wander.
You’ll feel more comfortable allowing your child that much-needed outdoor playtime if you have an emergency safety plan already in place if your child happens to roam. For your safety plan:
● Alert your neighbors. If your neighbors know you and your child ahead of time and know that your child should not be unaccompanied off your property, they may be your first line of defense should your child wander from home.
● Consider a tracking device and ID bracelet. Technology can give you additional peace of mind, especially if your child is prone to wander beyond your neighborhood or familiar surroundings.
● Inform the authorities. Teachers, police officers, and others in your community should be aware of the special needs of your child before an emergency occurs so they can respond appropriately.
The right amount of prevention and preparedness will help keep both you and your child at ease in your new backyard haven, so your child can explore, learn, engage, and grow.
Written by: Danny Knight
Photo credit: Pexels