How to Create a Safe Autism-Friendly Backyard – Guest Post written by Rob Woods @fixitdads.com
Every parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) wants to provide a place where they can learn and explore safely while enjoying fun backyard activities. Building an accessible, sensory-friendly environment in your backyard is one way to achieve this.
Wandering is a fear any parent of an ASD child, but there are precautions you can take when it comes to the backyard. Children on the spectrum may not appreciate boundaries, or the dangers beyond them. With that in mind, install sturdy fencing, and use landscaping to help define safe boundaries. Even if your little one has not engaged in wandering, fencing acts as a tangible buffer between the safety of the home and the dangers of outside. Ensure gates have locks, and consider adding alarms that trigger when there is unauthorized use.
Try to avoid trees being in proximity to fencing, as they can help climbing to the other side. Warning signs, in a bright color like red, could be placed to visually deter your little one from approaching areas you would prefer to be off-limits.
Yards contain hazards for children of all ages. An autistic child can be inquisitive, but may not appreciate the dangers of a chemical or a tool. Survey your yard for gardening equipment, chemicals and tools, and store them somewhere not easily accessible. It may be a good idea to place visual warning signs to discourage your little one from getting close to the storage area. Always put dangerous things away after use, as they could be enticing to play with. While surveying the yard, look for toxic plants. There are extensive lists available to identify ones that pose a threat. If your yard has trees, remove weak or fallen branches as these can cause injury.
Children on the spectrum may be sensitive to textures and sounds. While this can be overwhelming for them, it can also provide positive stimulation. A sensory space in your backyard can capitalize on this, and help develop an environment where your child can enjoy their time outside without over stimulation. Planting a garden could introduce your little one to gardening as well.
If you do involve them, be sure to equip them with protective gloves, so that their experience is not unpleasant. Imagine all the colors, scents, sounds and textures that they could enjoy and immerse themselves in at a pace they are comfortable with. This space could become a happy, stress-free zone, one where they can even withdraw to whenever their mood drops. Gardens are, by their nature, calming places. They are soothing and beautiful, and what better place outdoors could there be to recuperate and recharge.
Fun in the Yard
Together with dedicated sensory spaces, yards can be a true sanctuary for ASD children. They can put you in control of learning and stimulation, and offer opportunities to have messy play, and explore nature safely. A good way to make the most of your backyard is by camping, and spending a whole day making fun discoveries. Camping is a family activity, and one that can let you stargaze and bird watch. Place a couple of chairs next to your tent and watch birds as they flutter around. Give your little one some binoculars to do so from a comfortable distance and a book that can allow them to identify whatever feathered friends are spotted. Come nightfall, you can take time to look up at the stars and watch some of their favorite shows. However, if you find they become overwhelmed or scared by any sounds or sights at night, it’s perfectly okay to take the camping inside.
Autism comes in many forms, but creating a backyard that is functional and spectrum-friendly can help you find what is best for your child. Make your yard safe, secure and free of hazards, and give them the means to explore sensation without being overstimulated. You may find that your backyard is a place for your child to flourish.