Creating a Safe, Inviting Backyard for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Contributed by Amanda Henderson - Founder and Writer, Safechildren SafeChildren.info
Creating an accessible, inviting backyard for ASD children requires a little planning to open up a world where they can explore without feeling overwhelmed. There are a few safety issues to consider, but once they’re addressed, let the creation and fun begin!
Backyard accessibility & safety
If your child has mobility issues, increase your backyard’s accessibility with 60-inch-wide walkways. Add grab bars or handles near steps. Include hardscaped paths if your kiddo needs a wheelchair or walker to move around.
If you have a backyard pool, make sure it’s childproofed and enclosed by a fence that’s at least 48 inches high. It should also be equipped with a pool alarm that emits a loud sound when the water surface is broken. The gate should lock, and remember not to push furniture against the outside fence—enterprising kids could use that furniture to boost themselves over and into the water.
Many ASD kids have noise sensitivities. A barking dog, car alarm, or lawn mower can trigger a major meltdown. Add higher fences, trees (like arborvitae) or other plants to help muffle sound. Your kiddo might benefit from special earplugs to buffer sound, too.
Identify and teach kids to identify any plants that could give them a rash when touched. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac grow throughout the US, so learn what they look like—and don’t forget to wear gloves when you’re pulling them.
Gardens are perfect for tactile people, like kids, who love to work with their hands. Gardens also promote movement, activity, and relaxation—and it’s something the whole family can do together. Set up your kiddo with his own gardening gear, like gloves, a small trowel, and a watering can.
Plant flowers and shrubs that attract butterflies, and create a little garden oasis just for them. All you need is an area with small stones that surround small, shallow trays filled with water and butterfly nectar. You can even buy kits where you can watch caterpillars build chrysalises and eventually emerge as monarch butterflies that are ready to be released into the garden.
Therapists and teachers often use sand, which is a wonderful sensory toy, to build sensory skills in children with autism. Put a sandbox in the shade, stock it with digging toys, cars, or characters, and encourage your little person to design, create, and build! Use the sandbox to practice drawing and writing. Bury items to discover in a treasure hunt or plastic bones for your little paleontologist.
Bird watching is a great activity for the whole family to do together. Pick a spot in the shade to make a comfortable bird-watching nest with cushions, grab a pair of binoculars and a bird guide, and create a checklist to track your feathered visitors.
Attract more birds to your garden with a birdbath or make a bird feeder. Liberally smear peanut butter on pine cones, roll them in birdseed, and hang them from tree or bush branches throughout the garden. String cheerios on pipe cleaners, or try one of these easy plans.
Incorporate play equipment for your kiddo. All children love to swing, and swings create a calming effect for many kids on the autism spectrum because of the predictable, rhythmic motion. Hammock chairs, platform swings, ball swings, and therapy swings are all good options. For kids who also experience significant sensory overload, try a cocoon swing, which reduces line of sight and provides a gentle pressure. Swinging also provides a non-threatening introduction to other playground equipment.
Jungle gyms are also good additions because they stimulate the senses and benefit the vestibular system. Miniature rock walls for climbing or monkey bars for hanging upside down and swinging from rung to rung are perfect!
Play time! Activities for outdoor fun
The outdoors is the perfect place to help kids practice gross motor movement while getting sensory feedback from toys, equipment, and nature itself. Fun activities might include digging for fossils in the sandbox, creating an obstacle course, mud painting, bubble wrap stomp art, shaving cream car tracks, and more.
The next time the sunshine beckons, go! You’ll love watching your child’s motor, language, communication, thinking, problem-solving, and social skills grow.