Customizing Your Backyard for Children on the Autism Spectrum
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a term used to define a range of conditions characterized by certain challenges some children face. These challenges include issues with social skills, repetitive behaviors, nonverbal communication, and speech. Furthermore, children with autism also tend to have unique strengths that make them different. One in 68 American children is on the autism spectrum.
There are three different types of autism:
- Autistic disorderor “classic autism” is characterized by significant language delays, problems with social skills, communication challenges, and unusual behaviors or interests. Autistic disorder may be accompanied by a learning disability.
- Asperger syndromeis an autistic disorder where the child typically does not have problems with language or an intellectual disability. However, they may have problems with social skills as well as unusual behaviors and interests.
- Pervasive developmental disordernot otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) or “atypical autism” is characterized by some of the symptoms of either autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all of them. Symptoms of PDD-NOS may include social and communication challenges.
Autism and Play
Children need time to play. It is so important, the United Nations declared play as a human right in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Playtime is instrumental in helping children develop gross and fine motor skills, language and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and social skills. Playing outside has its own importance. Outdoor exercise helps boost immunity, promotes imagination, hones problem solving skills, reduces stress, improves vision, and provides a healthy dose of vitamin D.
Parents of children with autism often have difficulty playing with their children. Children with autism may lose interest in directives or involve themselves in repetitive, seemingly pointless acts of play that isolate them from other children. However, play can be an incredibly useful tool for teaching a child on the autism spectrum valuable developmental skills.
Custom Backyard for Children with Autism
Creating a safe, accessible, and functional backyard where children with autism can be active and engage with others encourages healthy play. The stress reducing benefits of outdoor playtime can be very therapeutic, as well. The backyard is also a prime environment for planning various sensory integration activities which are hugely beneficial for children with autism who often explore and learn about the world through touch.
Here are some of our favorite tips for customizing your backyard.
- Create a bird sanctuary with a birdseed bin. Your child can experience the various textures of seeds while also learning how to use of buckets, cups and shovels. Watch the birds as they come into your yard to help teach older children about identifying and researching animals.
- Build a sandbox where your child can enjoy the sensory experience of handling sand while building castles, roads and whatever else their imagination can come up with.
- Whip up some homemade bubbleswith soap, food coloring and water and explore all the different sizes and shapes you can make with various kitchen tools.
- Designate a small patch for growing plants and flowers. Give your child their own set of gardening gear including a small shovel, garden gloves, and a watering can.
- Encourage your child to help choose several different family-friendly activities that can done in your backyard, such as backyard camping which helps teach children how to be comfortable when away from home without really ever having to leave home. Pitch a tent, cook s’mores over the grill, and fall asleep to the sounds of crickets chirping. Choose from other great family-friendly activities here.
- Create a designated safe space for your child where they can escape when feeling overstimulated. Some good ideas for these spaces include a play tunnel, a tent, or a clubhouse.
Autism comes in many different forms and is characterized by symptoms including language delays, problems with social skills, communication challenges, and unusual behaviors or interests. While play is important for a child’s development, parents of autistic children often have problems holding their child’s attention when playing. Creating a safe environment conducive to play can help develop gross and fine motor skills, language and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and social skills in children on the autism spectrum.
Author Danny KnightDanny 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.