Playing Outside Benefits Kids With Autism



Want your child with autism to improve spatial reasoning, reduce negative behaviors and develop confidence? Take him or her to the playground. A 2010 study for the 16th International Symposium on Society and Resource Management reports that outdoor recreation benefits kids with autism, including improvement in communication and emotional regulation. Not all play is created equal in the world of autism, however. To optimize the benefits of outdoor recreation for your child, keep these principles in mind.

Offer Diverse Sensory Exposure

Taking your child to a field with a ball may provide the possibility of physical exercise if he or she plays with it, but a more structured environment can do wonders. A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that playgrounds with a variety of physical challenges and options for both organized and imaginary play, such as swingsets, give children with autism opportunities to explore by themselves and with others.

Encourage your child to interact with other youngsters by modeling age-appropriate activities such as pushing each other on a swing or building a sand castle in a sandbox. Ensure your child’s safety on moving apparatus and raised structures by making sure there’s adult supervision at all times. Your presence will foster a sense of safety and security, and will support your child to thrive. Choose a play area that has both fixed and mobile structures to give your kid the chance to refine his or her motor skills while increasing spatial reasoning capabilities.

Integrate Nature

Natural elements provide children on the autism spectrum with the opportunity to create art, build frameworks, interact with animals and play music, reports an article in The Star. This story talks about the outdoor classrooms at Blaydon Public School in Toronto. Schools like these are making play a prominent part of daily curriculum by looking at outdoor classrooms as opportunities to foster interests in everything from engineering to science.

Encourage your child to look at objects found in nature in new ways. Could that stick be used as a pencil to draw in the mud? What kinds of sounds can you make by tapping on that tree trunk? What’s going on with that family of bugs crawling around? Teachers have made strides with nonverbal children on the spectrum by getting them outside in the fresh air. These kids are spelling their names with natural objects and engaging more with peers.

Get Moving 

The Association for Science in Autism Treatment reports that, in social play settings, children with autism may exhibit a decrease in repetitive behaviors and an increase in social interactions. When a child with autism is in an environment where he or she can move around, it helps regulate energy levels, which may diminish the need for the stimulus provided by repetitive and potentially self-harming behaviors.

Exercise plays a vital role in the overall health of any child. Properly structured for children with autism, physical activity can have a positive impact by reducing stress and anxiety while boosting sleep, memory and reaction time. The Autism Research Institute suggests making rigorous exercise part of a child’s Individualized Education Plan, since it helps maintain healthy weight while improving fitness, motor function, cognition and behavior.


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