When you have a child with autism, your home will look vastly different than that of your peers. Your walls may look bare by comparison, lights may be dimmer, and you’ll have a host of blankets and comfort items most kids leave behind by grade school. But one area you may have neglected to prep specifically for your ASD child is the backyard.
Children on the spectrum tend to prefer the indoors, where lights and sounds can be controlled. However, outside time is paramount to their overall health, well-being, and development. Here are a few tips on how to create a fun and, more importantly, safe autism-friendly yard.
Start with the big dangers
The most dangerous parts of your backyard may be the ones you’d like to use the most. The pool, for example, can be dangerous for all children but especially so for ASD kids, who may have a delayed response to stimuli, including the sensation of drowning, and are prone to wandering. U.S.-based National Autism Society reports that drowning is among the top-three causes of death of autistic persons. Your pool should be behind a gated fence that is locked when not in use. Install a pool alarm that will sound any time the water is disturbed, and make sure this alarm is in place when you are not in the pool. Redfin further suggests establishing water entry habits with your child, which is an added level of protection for kids who thrive on routine.
The trampoline and swing set should also get extra attention. ADS kids enjoy the repetitive motions of jumping and swinging, and these play structures can be valuable assets to their outdoor time. Make sure your child understands the rules of using these toys: only one person at a time on the trampoline, no entry unless under adult supervision, etc. Each of these structures should be affixed into the ground with special straps and/or concrete base to prevent tipping with vigorous use.
Toys and games
Contrary to popular belief, children on the autism spectrum do enjoy playing with toys and games. The primary difference is they tend to react differently, perhaps not expressing joy the same way a non-ASD child might. An ASD child might enjoy toys that promote vestibular stimulation, such as a wagon that you can pull behind you. A balance beam, basketball hoop, and sand pit are excellent additions to the ASD-friendly backyard. The National Autistic Society also lists a bubble machine, slide, and water play toys as beneficial for children with sensory issues.
Building your ASD-friendly lawn
In addition to the above safety tips, you will also need to take precautions when planning and building your child’s backyard play area. Keep in mind that large play structures should be centered in a contained area of mulch, sand, or gravel for maximum safety. Most experts recommend a depth of six to nine inches. Soft materials, such as shredded tire and fine sand, are great options, but less expensive wood chips or bark mulch are also acceptable if budget is a concern. When using a hammer or shovel, always wear protective gardening gloves to prevent injuries to the hands. If your child will be using their play area at night, make sure it is well lit. Your backyard should be fenced completely and potentially poisonous plants removed from the premises.
The importance of outdoor play cannot be underscored enough. Unfortunately, the vast majority of children in the U.K. don’t get nearly enough time under the sun. Take steps to ensure your yard is a safe and inviting environment for your ASD child. His or her health and wellness depend on it.
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