How to Create the Perfect Backyard for an Autistic Child

Jun 28, 2018 | Autism |

The Perfect Backyard for an Autistic Child

If you have an autistic child, then you know very well how difficult it can be to manage characteristics such as flapping hands, repeating phrases or babble, heightened sensitivity (or sensory aversion), obsessive interests, social isolation, and loss of language skills, but you’re not alone. Approximately one in 68 U.S. kids has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a number that continues to grow rapidly each year. While there’s no wonder pill to treat autism, setting a home environment, such as the backyard, with activities that stimulate their senses can be a great accompaniment to any treatment given by a doctor or therapist. Here’s how to make the most of the great outdoors.

Build an Obstacle Course

Autistic children have challenged motor skills, but they can improve them in the same way as typically developing kids do — by moving. One of the best ways to incorporate a variety of motor skills at once is by setting up an obstacle course that involves walking, running, jumping, climbing, ball skills, bending, and animal walks, among countless others. From a development and attention span standpoint, get creative and regularly mix things up. For example, turn a typical course into an action, a treasure hunt, or a spy experience. Bring out some of their favorite stuffed animals and make them imitate their noises at each station. Incorporate fun elements such as balloons, a DIY cavaletti, a ball of yarn, and sidewalk chalk.

Water Therapy

Many medical professionals believe that water therapy can increase the effectiveness of an all-encompassing treatment program. Even if you don’t have a big swimming pool, purchase a smaller model (larger than your average kiddie pool) to get your child used to water. Along with helping kids to become better swimmers, aquatic therapy can help strengthen muscles, which, in turn, improves balance and range of motion. You need not be overly social to enjoy being in the water, thus making it a safe space to practice social skills without any pressure. Motor skills can get a boost if activities such as tossing a ball around are incorporated into the experience. Many kids with ASD have sensory integration issues, so water can have a calming effect.

Grow a Sensory Garden

Numerous studies point out the positive effects of being in a garden for children with development issues such as ASD, so consider planting a sensory garden in your backyard. It’s important that the green space targets all five senses — think planting roses that permeate the air with a delightful aroma, exploring taste with edible herbs, adding the addition of a water fountain for audible pleasure, and using a variety of colorful shrubs and flowers for visual appeal. Be sure to choose an area that’s calming and relaxing for your child so that they get the most out of the experience. Along with incorporating touchable foliage, let your child get involved hands-on by helping you with the gardening experience. Before starting, ensure you have all the proper equipment, including gardening gloves if you get into anything messy.  

Add Autism-Friendly Playground Equipment

While there’s nothing wrong with visiting the local playground to help develop your child’s social skills, a backyard setup is an easy way for him/her to work on gross motor skills on the daily — weather permitting, of course. There are some things to keep in mind so that your child gets the most out of the experience. For example, incorporate natural elements such as a sandbox,  sprinkler, and loose building material so they can make their own structure. Provide play structures that double as a hiding place since kids with ASD sometimes need a “safe” place.

Solo play isn’t the only way to entertain your child. Make playtime a family affair by a variety of activities you can do together such as bird watching and backyard camping. Ask your kid for feedback on things they would like to do so they feel included.

Although making your backyard safe and enjoyable for an autistic child might take some work, it’s important for them to have a space to explore and have fun. Just make sure you take the proper precautions to ensure everyone has a great time.

Guest article by Danny Knight. Danny is a dad living in Philadelphia. He enjoys DIY projects almost as much as raising his two children. He is the co-creator of FixItDads.com, which offers tips for home improvement projects.

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