Written by Danielle Bradley
Featured on WikiLawn
Playing outside is one of the greatest joys of childhood. Stepping out the back door into sunlight, fresh air, and freedom can provide a feeling of liberation unlike any other. There are extra considerations when your child has special needs, but time outside still can offer tremendous therapeutic benefits, especially for children with autism or similar conditions that may keep them confined indoors in highly structured, climate-controlled environments for most of the day.
If you’re looking to create a safe and sensory-friendly outdoor sanctuary where your children can enjoy themselves and learn through nature-based sensory play, it’s imperative first to approach the design and construction with an understanding of your child’s specific needs — including sensory, cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments, as well as issues with fine and gross motor skills.
All kids need a safe environment in which to get loud, be physically active, and burn off excess energy. The best safe and secure spaces outdoors offer features that safely accommodate all levels of capability and energy.
This guide will focus on techniques to use in creating a sensory-friendly backyard environment for your child with special needs. You can design a haven that offers plenty of fun, physically stimulating activities to engage all the senses. At the same time, you can take steps to anticipate and address accessibility barriers, common behavioral and environmental risks, and potential safety hazards.
6 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children With Special Needs
You might wonder, what’s the point of creating an outdoor space for my child? Are the potential benefits worth the work? Yes, they overwhelmingly are, says pediatric occupational therapist Christine Sadecki. “Outdoor play can address many challenges for children with sensory processing disorders and/or autism. It can be calming or alerting.” Studies show hands-on sensory play can help kids operating on the autism spectrum or experiencing low vision, as well as those working to develop fine motor skills.
“Outdoor play encourages listening skills, executive functioning, motor planning, and body awareness, as well as self-control and social development,” says Sadecki. “It also encourages participation in the senses such as touch, sound, sight, vestibular, and proprioception, which can be challenging areas for children with sensory processing disorder or autism.” Playing outdoors helps promote kids’ strong, sustained, physical development in a number of ways:
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