Please note this guest blog has been written using American English.
As a parent, safety is always top of mind, but if you have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), then you’ve got to institute some extra precautionary measures. ASD and autism encompass a group of complicated conditions that affect both verbal and nonverbal communication and behavior, thus making social situations difficult.
It’s believed that the condition begins to develop in the brain early on, but the first signs show up between ages 2 and 3. Approximately 2.41 percent of children in the U.S. are autistic — around 1 out of every 41 kids —a statistic that’s increased over the past decade. A few of the common traits of autism include delayed speech development, being non-responsive, rejecting affection, not enjoying situations that most kids enjoy, preference for a familiar routine, playing with toys in an unconventional manner and often preferring to play alone.
With this in mind, your backyard should be a safe space that caters to your child’s needs as it’s likely a popular spot to hang out in the warmer weather months. Here’s what you can do so you can have peace of mind. Early intervention is important for autistic children, and a sensory garden allows children to explore their senses without feeling overwhelmed by them.
Plan Family Time
Turning your child loose in the backyard and hoping for the best isn’t going to work. Instead, show how fun it is to spend time outdoors by making it a family affair. Plan activities such as birdwatching, a campout (complete with s’mores and roasted hot dogs) and stargazing.
Create an Obstacle Course
While there’s nothing wrong with a standard swing set, creating an obstacle course can help an autistic child with sequencing, attention, following directions, motor skills, and repetitive processing — all of which are important for development. Some activities to consider include crawling through a tunnel, jumping rope, dribbling a ball, stepping between the rungs of a ladder, and walking on chalk footprints.
Plant a Sensory Garden
A sensory garden is designed to stimulate all senses: sight, touch, taste, and sound, all through the use of different plants and materials. These gardens allow autistic children to explore their senses in a safe and stimulating environment.
While you’ll do the heavy lifting, giving your child a task, such as dropping the seeds in the ground or picking fresh veggies can give him/her a sense of pride. You’ll also have the opportunity to educate them on the importance of sustainable practices, how things grow, the importance of nurturing/taking care of something and how to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Once you begin your garden, you should invest in sturdy tools and pairs of gardening gloves for you and your family.
Explore Hidden Treasures
How about looking for Easter eggs, every kid loves a good “hunt.” Use your backyard as a canvas to create an educational treasure hunt that helps them connect words with physical objects, whether that means leaves, flowers, rocks or safe items from inside your home.
Put Up a Butterfly Feeder
Similar to birdwatching, butterflies can prompt a discussion that ranges from the different types of species to the gestation process. You can even look for cocoons in your backyard come springtime. To attract butterflies to your yard, build a DIY garden with two shallow trays: one for water to drink and the other for the butterflies to place nectar.
Waterplay and Safety Precautions
There is a strong link between autism and water as autistic children are often drawn to the supreme sensory stimuli that water presents. Adding water features to your sensory garden is hugely important in making it a haven for your child. Paddling pools, swimming pools and water slides on the grass, even hoses, each present an opportunity to stimulate different senses.
A swimming pool can be a great respite for a kid with autism, but they can also be extremely dangerous if you’re not giving your attention to your yard 100 percent of the time. Consider installing motion-detected pool alarms that will let you know if there’s activity in the area — like an unintentional fall, for example.
A Safe, Sensory Garden is for Life
As a parent, you’ve got to prepare for the long haul and include future plans for teenage years and adulthood. Look for support groups where you can exchange ideas and possibly discuss your feelings with other like-minded parents. This is also a great opportunity for your child to build social skills with other children who are faced with the same social challenges. Having a full understanding of what it means to live with ASD can give you a better foundation for helping your child live life to the fullest.
By Danny Knight