Creating a Sensory Friendly Backyard

autism swing

By Jasmine Dyoco

ASD kids need to run and play just like their non-spectrum siblings and peers. But it can be tough to ensure your child gets enough physical activity, especially outdoors, when the world around him is teaming with loud noises and unfamiliar experiences around every corner.

You can introduce your ASD kid to the wonderful world of life beyond the walls and still keep his comfort at heart by creating a sensory-friendly backyard.

A family affair

Family time is always learning time when you have a child on the spectrum, but it can also be fun time. Spend an evening together under the stars and let your child pack for the occasion. He may be resistant to changing his routine, so try to make your outdoor accommodations as close to home as possible by letting your child bring a familiar blanket and pillows from his own bed. Plexus recommends building a bird feeder and bird watching as family activities along with washing the car, the latter of which also provides a sensory experience as it utilizes sponges, soap, and bubbles.

Touch and see

Many on the autism spectrum have touch sensitivity. Unfamiliar textures and shapes may be overwhelming for young ASD children, who haven’t developed a way to regulate their response to stimuli they aren’t expecting. Create an immersive environment at home by planting a sensory garden. Start with herbs and non-fragrant flowers. You can also plant container vegetables such as cherry tomatoes and lettuce. When planting, always wear high-quality garden gloves; your child may wish to wear nitrile gloves, which allow some sensation to come through without being overwhelming. Allow your child to touch and feel the plants and soil and hold each garden tool in his hand. Show your child how each is used and take this opportunity to teach about healthy food choices and organic growing practices.

Swinging for sensory

All kids like to swing, but many ASD kids experience a calming effect when moving back and forth in a predictable and rhythmic motion. Benefits of swinging include increased coordination and balance, a boost in positive mood, and muscle strengthening. Therapy swings are best for spectrum children, and some allow for the experience of swinging and the option to effectively block visual “noise” from the outside. There are several types of swings that work well for ASD children including hammock chairs, ball swings, and platform swings. Cocoon swings are an excellent option for children further into the spectrum since these provide gentle pressure and reduce their line of sight, making it a less overpowering experience.

Noise reduction

Noise is a common problem for ADS children, and any loud or unexpected sounds can wreak havoc on their nerves. Outside, anything from a vehicle backfiring in the distance to your neighbor’s lawn mower or barking dog can trigger a meltdown. Some children experience severe reactions to noise that even spawn a trip to the ER. Autism Speaks explains that you’ll put your child in a better position for life as an adult if you help him learn to manage his fears and develop coping strategies when faced with loud noises. Outfit your backyard play area with spaces that reduce but don’t eliminate noise. A playhouse is a great addition and can be furnished with pillows, which will absorb some sound and serve as a comfortable place to unwind. Special earplugs may also help diminish some of the background noise that makes the outdoors uncomfortable.

Outdoor time is important for all children. Don’t let your son or daughter remain indoors on days when the sun is shining bright. Create a comfortable, safe, and autism-friendly backyard. Your child will benefit now from play while learning valuable coping skills for the future.

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Jasmine Dyoco loves crossword puzzles and audio books, learning (anything!) and fencing. She works with Educatorlabs to curate scholastic information.

Header image via Pixabay.

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