Optimizing Your Backyard for a Child on the Autism Spectrum

 Image via  Pexels

Image via Pexels

 

About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability that impacts a person’s social skills, communication, and behaviors. The disorder begins early in childhood and makes it more difficult for the subject to function normally in society. There exists a wide range of symptoms that may include language impairment and repetitive patterns of behavior.  There is no “cure” for autism spectrum disorder, but early treatment and management helps children adapt and successfully function in their community.

As the disorder is on a spectrum, autism varies in severity on a case-by-case basis. Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder are all separate conditions that fall onto the spectrum. However, each child has his or her own unique mixture of symptoms and patterns of behavior that don’t necessarily fall into one particular disorder.

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in children include:

  • Delayed speech and speech regression
  • Cannot follow directions
  • Issues communicating needs
  • “Loner” mentality-- does not play with others
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Inability to adapt to change
  • Problems with sensory processing
  • Lack of sociological imagination
  • Obsessive interests
  • Echolalia
  • Trouble grasping reason or plans
  • Easily frustrated

Sensory Integration and Backyard Fun

Sensory integration is a type of autism therapy that helps children who over- or under-respond to one or more sensations. Sensory processing issues occur when the brain has difficulties with organizing and responding to the information collected through the senses. Children that over-respond to sensations may hide away from loud noises, bright lights, or crowded areas. Under-responsive children may have trouble sitting still, playing too rough, and being gentle with others.

Sensory integration therapy works to regulate a child’s responses to stimuli in order to “rewire” the brain and normalize experiences. Children learn to respond appropriately to sensory input and have more control over their behavior. In studies, sensory integration therapy has proven to improve daily function in children with autism. Only trained occupational therapists should administer sensory integration therapy as they have the education and experience necessary to figure out your child’s needs and the best practices for addressing them.

After consulting a therapist regarding your child’s sensory integration needs, you can use their feedback to choose from a variety of backyard games, crafts, and exercises that can provide great benefit. These activities help children with sensory processing issues acclimate to new experiences in a safe and familiar environment.

●     A child with gravitational insecurity may feel overwhelmed by movement. You may notice a child with gravitational insecurity fears machinery like escalators and elevators that take away their agency as far as movement goes. A backyard swing set is a great way to encourage activity that stimulates the vestibular system in the inner ear. You’ll want to look into models that have extra features pertaining to your child’s interests and abilities. Be sure to install your swing set over a protective surface that prevents major injury due to falling and keep the equipment in optimum condition and establish rules for safe play.

●     Horticulture therapy via backyard gardening is a great activity for various sensory processing issues. Under-responsive children learn about focus and how we have to be gentle when handling delicate things like flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Over-responsive children will enjoy gardening as a limited sensory experience that enables them to be outside. Gardening helps children from all parts of the autism spectrum fine tune their motor skills. From putting on a pair of garden gloves to pulling weeds from the roots, gardening practices everyday movements the rest of us take for granted.

●     A backyard cornhole set helps children on the autism spectrum develop a sense of left and right, increase balance, learn finesse, develop their gross motor skills, and  enhance directionality. It’s a low-impact game that encourages socialization while teaching children about rules, sportsmanship, and sharing.

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Autism is a brain development disorder that can make life challenging for those who have it. Sensory integration therapy helps children with autism who are under- or over-responsive to sensations most of us hardly notice. While your child’s sensory integration needs should be evaluated by an occupational therapist, certain backyard activities like playing on a swing set, corn hole, and gardening are simple ways to help at home.

Guest Blog by Fix It Dads.