Contribution from freelance writer Olivia Ryan
Every once in a while, the Leka Team is happy to welcome external contributors and share their food for thoughts. Olivia is an incurable optimist who always sees the glass as half-full. She likes nature, knows how to enjoy silence and is keen on writing for aussiewritings.com and other websites. Meet her on Facebook and Twitter.
Researchers are still learning about autism and its causes. What we do know so far, however, is that exposure to air pollutants might be linked to autism spectrum disorders. So we want our children away from pollution and we need to expose them to fresh air as much as possible.
Marta Richards, a writer for AussieWritings.com and a mother to an autistic child, shares her experience: "No one had to tell me that being outside in nature was good for Brandon. This was his happy place and I immediately noticed it. Since I work from home, it was easy for me to start spending time with him in nature every single day. We moved to a calmer place and I constantly witness the joy that nature brings to this child."
The problem is that not all kids like nature. You know that fresh air is good for them, but how do you encourage your kid to love a daily routine that involves walks in nature?
We’ll suggest 5 creative ways to help you do that.
1. Get Bright Clothes and a Tracking Device
Autistic children have a tendency for wandering off. That’s a real concern and a reason for most parents to avoid hiking in nature. But if you constantly keep an eye on your kid, you won’t lose them. If they get far ahead, you’ll simply catch up with them.
To bring yourself a peace of mind, you should definitely invest in bright t-shirts that will make your kid recognizable from the far. Even more, you should get a tracking device that will help you locate them if you somehow lose them from your sight. It won’t be easy to make them wear this tracking device, but you can slowly introduce them to it.
2. Find Out What Your Child Likes
All autistic children are different. Some of them won’t like hiking, but will enjoy a picnic in nature. Others will brighten up on the hiking trail. It will take some time for you to experiment and find out what your kid really likes. If, for example, you notice they get bored walking the same route every day, you can choose different trails every day. Or you can simply allow your kid to lead.
3. Engage in Their Favorite Activities During the Breaks
If you want to take longer hikes and keep them exposed to fresh air for as long as possible, you’ll have to take breaks. That’s when your child might get bored, so you need a strategy.
Some children love painting. Others love it when you read their favorite books to them. Some simply like to observe the trees. Whatever your kid’s favorite activity is, engage in it during the breaks.
4. Don’t Give Up on the First Obstacle
This won’t be easy. For most parents of autistic children, exposing them to daily nature-exploring activities can be exhausting. At first, the kids may refuse to walk. They will sit down on the trail and they will complain without stopping. At this point, you’ll need to show some persistence. You know that they will benefit from these activities, since they will help their sensory system to work better. So find your ways to inspire them.
As you go on, you’ll realize that your kid can transform each hike into a fantasy. And it will be beautiful!
Hey! You don’t have to do this every day if your child disagrees. Be careful with them and avoid forcing them to do something they don’t want. Introduce the activities step by step and they will get used to them.
5. Let Them Connect with Their Senses
When your kid is out in the nature, they will get tons of opportunities to taste, smell, touch, and listen to different things. The natural surrounding engages them on a multi-sensory level, and that’s especially important for children with autism.
You can even create a DIY Nature Box, where you’ll collect flowers, leaves, pine cones, rocks, and other things from the nature, so you can preserve the textures and scents.
Just take your children outside! They will appreciate it. As a parent, you’ll also appreciate the activities and the healing effects of nature.
6. Horses Will Help the Process
Throughout your research on how to help your kid live the most fulfilling life, you probably came across the concept of equine therapy. When autistic children get the chance to ride horses in a careful and supported way, they are not getting just pure fun. Equine therapy sets individual goals for each rider, so the physical therapists can help them work on their fitness, speech, and socialization skills.
Most children have a strong affinity towards animals. Horses, in particular, are noble and caring animals that immediately get their attention. One study showed that autistic children exposed to this type of therapy exhibited greater sensory sensitivity, sensory seeking, and social motivation. In addition, they showed less distractibility, less inattention, and less sedentary behaviour.