Spending time outside is important for all children. It encourages play, physical activity, and can improve their overall mental health and wellbeing. For children on the autism spectrum, outdoor activities can be even more beneficial.
The sights and sounds of being outdoors are great for children with autism, allowing them to experience a variety of feelings without getting overwhelmed. Spending time in natural environments also helps to encourage their cooperative skills, and can even help with language.
Children with autism who regularly play outside also can experience improved motor skills, as well as better coordination and balance.
As a parent of a child with autism, you might be asking yourself which activities are appropriate and encouraging. You know your child better than anyone. So, consider some of their favorite things, as well as activities they don’t typically tend to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your ideas.
If you’re still stumped, consider some of the outdoor activities listed here for your child as a way to encourage natural play and growth.
Make Your Way to the Playground
Spending time in a park with things to climb on or a traditional playground is a great way to let your child explore and play at their own pace. They can choose the things they’re interested in and comfortable with. Because most kids like the idea of creating their adventures at a playground, suggesting it is a great way to get them outside. You can also encourage them to get away from things like electronics and spend more time outdoors by:
- Offering both structured and unstructured play
- Letting them get dirty in their explorations
- Playing with them
- Making outside play a daily habit
Playgrounds are often a hit, but they are also incredibly mentally and physically beneficial for your child. The equipment typically found on playgrounds can help to improve balance, confidence, and even social skills if other children are around. Your child can do things at their own pace and explore the things they’re interested in without feeling pressured.
Take Advantage of the Seasons
Letting your child experience the beauty of different seasons is a great way to encourage learning. It also allows them to experience different kinds of play depending on the weather. For example, going on a fall walk or bike ride can be used as an excuse to identify leaf colors.
In the winter, your child can take part in unique activities like skiing and sledding. You can help them to get excited about winter sports and activities by buying them the right gear and storage solutions for that gear. Since there tends to be less daylight in winter, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to partake in some “nighttime” activities with your child. You don’t have to be out very late, and things like cross-country skiing or ice skating at night can introduce a whole new world of sights and sounds to your child. Doing fun things at night may also help if your child struggles with a fear of the dark.
Spring and summertime activities can include anything from hide and seek around your backyard, to using water therapy with a swimming pool, sprinkler system, or even buckets of water and an umbrella! Get creative with the seasons and you can teach your child to appreciate what each one has to offer.
This might be the simplest suggestion on this list, but there are several benefits to getting outside and having a “bubble party”. A jar of bubbles at the store is incredibly inexpensive. Or, you can choose to make your own (and include your child in the process!) with dish soap and water.
Teaching your child to blow bubbles through a wand can help improve sensory and joint attention problems. You can use different tools and objects to blow the bubbles, too. Doing so lets your child use their imagination and discover which “wands” work and which don’t. Some ideas for bubble blowers include:
- Multiple straws held together with a rubber band
- Two handles and a piece of string tied in a triangle shape
- Bent pipe cleaners
- Wires/wire hangers bent into different shapes
You can also increase sensory stimulation in your bubbles by adding colors or natural scents. Adding a touch of corn syrup, food color, and essential oils to homemade bubbles will make them more durable and create a rainbow effect once they’re blown through a wand. Your child will love getting creative and watching bubbles of different sizes fly through the air.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, money, or even a lot of effort to get your child with autism to be active outdoors. By participating with them and doing things they enjoy, they will benefit from the activities in different ways, and you may start to see noticeable, positive changes the more time they spend outside.