One in 68 American children has what’s known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. Children with this condition face many challenges, including issues with nonverbal communication, speech, social skills, and repetitive behaviors. They also often have unique strengths that make them different. One way in which children with ASD are very much like neurotypical children, though, is in their need for play.
Play is so important in childhood that the United Nations has declared it a human right, and for children with ASD, it’s an extremely useful tool to teach developmental skills. Playing outside is especially important, because it promotes both imagination and problem-solving skills as well as reducing stress, improving vision, providing vitamin D, and boosting immunity. The challenge for parents of children with ASD is learning how to create a back yard that’s safe, accessible, functional, and sensory-friendly.
- Create sensory activities to develop fine motor skills. A sandbox, bubbles, and water play are all examples of activities that stimulate the senses and the imagination. By using your own imagination, you’ll be able to think of other sensory opportunities as well.
- Provide fun, physically stimulating activities. Swinging is a great activity for kids, and children with ASD find it especially calming. Playground games like hopscotch and Simon says can be fun, as can drawing with large sidewalk chalk.
- Make it a family affair. Playing with your child benefits both of you, helping to create deeper bonds while you get exercise and fresh air. Have a family campout, play games together, watch wildlife or stargaze, or set up a background treasure hunt.
- Give your child opportunities to interact with nature. Use a birdseed bin to create a bird sanctuary, allowing your child to experience not just the joy of birdwatching, but also the various textures of seeds and the use of buckets, cups, and shovels. Start a garden, perhaps growing vegetables, or maybe just planting flowers that will attract birds and butterflies.
- Build an accessible space. Consider your child’s special needs, as well as the needs of other children who will play in your back yard, and design areas in your backyard that will facilitate inclusive play.
- Make your back yard both fun and safe. For any child, safety measures like fences are a necessity. For children with ASD, it’s also important to create a space where they can feel safe if they feel overstimulated, like a play tunnel, a tent, or a clubhouse. Reducing noise can also be beneficial.
If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
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