Backyard Development and Safety
for Families Living with Autism
Autism in America
According to a 2014 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. The evaluation of data taken from the health and educational records of all 8-year-old children in 11 states found a 30 percent increase in cases from just two years earlier. The term “autism” refers to a number of different conditions characterized by complex disorders of brain development that lead to neurological differences.
Generally, we define autism within three different types: autistic disorder or “classic” autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, also called “atypical” autism). Doctors and researchers do not yet know the causes of the developmental disability. A child with autism may begin to show signs and symptoms as early as infancy, but typically show up around age two or three. These “red flag” signs and symptoms include:
● Not recognizing and responding to name by 12 months
● Avoiding eye contact and socialization
● Not playing “pretend games” by 18 months
● Delayed speech and language skills
● Not pointing at objects of interest
● Trouble understanding or processing feelings
● Echolalia -- a condition where they consistently repeat words or phrases
● Providing unrelated answers to questions
● Obsessive interests
● Inability to handle minor changes
● Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
● Repetitive physical mannerisms such as rocking their body
A Safe and Sensory-Friendly Backyard
Kids with autism spectrum disorder are extremely sensitive to various sensory stimulations, including lighting, sounds and smells, and the movement of their own bodies through space. Because of this, parents seek to create sensory-friendly spaces throughout the home to accommodate their child’s needs. However, you can’t stop with the indoors. Creating a sensory-friendly backyard encourages health play while keeping your child safe and happy.
A sensory-friendly space needs two sections: one for movement and play and one for quiet and relaxation. Work with your landscape to find natural spots for each section. If you don’t have a lot of space, you don’t have to ensure they are equal. The space for quiet and relaxation can be as simple as a homemade fort in the corner where your child can be alone and collect himself when feeling upset or overwhelmed.
If your home has a pool, go above and beyond with safety measures that prevent summer accidents. Install a pool alarm that goes off if someone enters the area without warning. A simple code lock on the entrance gate prevents children from getting past the barrier at all. Use a safety cover that keeps people and animals from falling in while dust and debris stay out.
Set up a number of sensory-friendly activities in the backyard that encourages your child to spend time outdoors playing. Many families use gardening as a way to connect and bond with children on the autism spectrum. Gardens are naturally calming. Working with the earth and seeing plant development provide important sensory experiments. Plus, gardening is good for both the body and mind. Designate a patch of earth where you can plant vegetables, herbs and flowers and provide your child with his own gardening equipment such as a watering can, garden gloves, a trowel and labels to mark which plant is which.
Millions of American children live with autism spectrum disorder. As autism makes children sensitive to sensory stimulations, it is important to curate the home in a way that comforts the child while also promoting mental development. A sensory-friendly backyard safe from harm is a great addition that encourages play for physical development, as well.
Article by Danny Knight