Whether it’s relaxing with a book on a beach or skiing through the mountains, most people find spending time in nature important to their health and well-being. Children with autism also benefit from connecting with nature.
Through nature, children gain important skills while learning how to care for living things and their environment. Nurture your child’s growth and development by allowing her to explore nature.
How spending time outdoors benefits children with autism
The benefits of spending time outdoors include:
- Children who play outside regularly gain motor skills, including coordination, balance and agility.
- Play in natural environments encourages language and cooperative skills.
- Outdoor play can improve awareness, reasoning and observational skills.
- Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress.
- Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children.
- Outdoor play offers children opportunities to experience the real world and practice activities that adults do.
Incorporating outdoor time into your child’s life
Learning outside should be guided by your child’s interests and needs. Follow these tips:
- If your child enjoys sensory experiences, put on rain boots and let your child jump in puddles. Use shovels, spoons or hands to scoop leaves or gather pine cones.
- If your child does not enjoy being messy or wet or tries to eat non-food items, avoid the above activities. Instead, let her explore nature through other senses. Try listening for birds or looking for insects.
- Don’t worry about structuring all of your child’s outdoor playtime. Free play outside helps children learn and express themselves.
- Bring your child’s favorite play items outside. Playing with the same materials in a different environment creates opportunities for new learning.
Be sure to also consider the physical space:
- Sometimes outdoor time is limited by access, your child’s attention span, or her tendency to run toward new and interesting sights.
- Make sure your child is safe when spending time outdoors.
- Limit outdoor time when the weather is very hot or cold. Also, remember to use sunscreen, even on cloudy days.
Bringing nature indoors
Keep the fun going whether you’re outside or inside. Here’s how to bring nature indoors:
- Use the colors and scents of nature to create a calming environment in your home. Colors like pale leaf green, soft sky blue, cloud white and sand beige and scents like lavender, pine and eucalyptus mimic the natural world.
- Find a space in your home to display pictures of nature. Use photographs that you’ve taken or cut out ones from magazines or calendars. Change the pictures throughout the year to represent changing seasons.
- Hang a bird feeder near a window and watch for birds or small animals.
- Decorate with house plants. Have your child help to care for these plants. Make sure the plants are not poisonous or irritating to the skin if touched.
- Incorporate elements of nature in holiday decorations.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.