for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Contributed by Jenny Wise from Special Home Educator
Many parents emphasize safety at the expense of experience and hands-on learning, but you can establish a yard in which your child may flourish and grow without fear of injury.
Set physical boundaries
One of the most important steps you can take is to set clearly-distinguishable boundaries so your child knows where he can or cannot go, and what’s okay to touch and interact with. Autistic kids learn a lot through touch, but there are some things that aren’t safe to lay hands and fingers on, such as poison ivy, rose bushes, sharp-edged tools, and heavy equipment. There should be a strong fence preventing your child from wandering out of the yard, with a gate that can be securely locked. Use fencing also to separate your child from any harmful plants, and be sure your garage and tool shed are locked.
If you have a swimming pool, pond or creek in your yard, there should be some kind of barrier protecting your child from injury or drowning. Pools in particular should be fenced off with a gate and lock. Teach your child to swim as soon as possible (kids often learn as early as 4) to reduce the likelihood of a tragic accident. Remember that kids on the autism spectrum often have difficulty processing verbal instructions. Visual cues, such as a red “stop sign,” or some kind of alarm are usually the best ways to deter an autistic child from venturing into a dangerous area.
Sensory play is very attractive to autistic kids. Set up a sandbox with toys your child can use to build castles, roads and anything else that stirs his imagination. Just handling sand and letting it run between his fingers can be a positive experience for an autistic child. Bubbles can also provide hours of entertainment and creative fun. Combine soap, food coloring and water to create homemade bubbles and use a strainer or some other kitchen object with holes in it to create bubbles of all sizes, shapes and colors.
There are many kinds of bird feeders that are easy to assemble and make a great warm weather project for autistic kids. Buckets and plastic cups can be used to make bird feeders, and an autistic child will enjoy the feel of various kinds and textures of seeds in their hands. Once your bird sanctuary is set up, spend some time identifying the different kinds of birds that come for a nibble, and write down as many as you can. Make sure your child has a good, sturdy pair of gloves before undertaking any backyard project for protection against cuts and scrapes.
Set aside some backyard family time and go camping together. Enjoy stargazing, cook s’mores, and play games together while you enjoy being in the fresh air and falling asleep to the soothing sounds of crickets chirping.