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  • Ascend Autism

Playing Outdoors: Why Children with Autism Should Play Outside

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Do you remember growing up and feeling the dirt between your toes? Did you play youth sports? Did you spend time in the mountains or hiking with your family before hitting the playground?

Outdoor play is important for every child, especially those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). By encouraging your child to participate in outdoor activities, you help them learn more about the world, develop their sensors, and enjoy being outside.

Let’s examine how outdoor play helps children with autism and encourages them to grow up with a love of all things mother nature.

Why is Outdoor Play Effective for Children with Autism?

Playing outside helps children develop various skills, such as coordination, balance, sensory play, turn-taking, and much more. In addition, being outside exposes children with autism to the world around them and is often less overwhelming than being in daycare or public as they adjust to life.

By introducing your child to nature close to home, you encourage them to break out of their shell and see what the world offers them beyond a television or computer screen. Children who spend more time outdoors typically benefit from the following:

● Experience the world in a new way and practice new activities away from the hustle and bustle of a crowded classroom or public setting.

● Improved agility, balance, coordination, and motor skills.

● Over time, outdoor play may improve situational awareness and reasoning skills.

● Being outside, away from it all, often reduces stress and anxiety.

How Does Encouraging Outdoor Play Help Children with ASD?

By introducing your child to the outdoors, they begin to get used to being around different situations. They can see, smell, and touch things in nature, adjusting to new things and new sensations. This helps them develop motor skills and coping mechanisms for when the world gets to be too much.

As they interact with other children, start school, and engage in other activities, the developmental skills learned while enjoying nature will help them adapt to new activities more easily. Not every child with autism may benefit from outdoor play. Check in with your child’s doctor to discuss how to incorporate outdoor play into their lives and what types of play would be the most beneficial for them.

Outdoor Activities for Children with Autism

Depending on your child’s functioning level of autism and what they already enjoy, incorporating the parts of outdoor play they will most enjoy is essential for them to embrace being outside.

For example, if your child doesn’t like being messy, bird watching or leaf-peeping might be better ideas than a child who likes sensory experiences jumping in muddy puddles after a good rainfall. Consider bringing some of your child’s favorite toys or books with you, just in case they discover that being outdoors isn’t something they enjoy. Having these with you will help avoid issues and anxiety as you move on to the next activity for the day or head home.

While you want to build a structure around your time outdoors, try and let your child just enjoy being wherever you go. By letting them explore on their own and just embrace what’s going on around them, they will slowly learn to appreciate a bit of spontaneity away from the structure that defines their life.

Things to Do in Colorado for Children with Autism

Colorado is one of the best places in America to live for outdoor activities – for children and adults alike. We have four seasons. The Rocky Mountains run through our state, and we’re lucky to be home to various outdoor activities, rain or shine year-round.

One of the easiest ways to expose your child to the outdoors in Colorado is to visit a park in your neck of the woods. Look at parks within walking distance and consider a stroll there during the early morning, when it’s less crowded. Also, just playing on a playground can encourage a budding love of the outdoors.

From there, plan a trip to a bigger park, like Rocky Mountain National Park or Estes Park. Not only could you explore the beauty of what The Centennial State offers, but you could enjoy hikes, guided tours, and venturing off on your own away from the crowded paths. Garden of the Gods is a fun drive or hike, depending on how much your child likes to walk. Dinosaur Ridge is another option in Morrison; there are indoor activities, too, if you and your child are up to it.

The Denver Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, or the Pueblo Zoo are good options, too, if your child does well around animals. Go early in the morning before the crowds come pouring in – plus, you’ll be there when a lot of animals are most active during feeding time. Bonus tip: The Pueblo Zoo, while a drive for most, is one of the least crowded places to visit, especially during the fall.

Encourage Outdoor Play for All Children, Especially Those with Autism

Whether they end up falling in love with the great outdoors or not, every child should be encouraged to spend time outside. Sunlight and fresh air help relax children and adults, too.

Being able to spend time exploring what the world has to offer benefits children with autism and can help bring families closer together by doing different activities with one another.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
May 06, 2023

I completely agree with this article on the benefits of outdoor play for children with autism. As a support worker for autism, I have seen firsthand how being outdoors can help with sensory processing and socialization skills. It's great to see the article mention different activities for children with varying levels of functioning and interests.

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