By Jackie Edwards
“The movement to reconnect children to the natural world has arisen quickly, spontaneously, and across the usual social, political, and economic dividing lines.” – Richard Louv
Children benefit from natural environments, with a growing number of studies indicating that outdoor activities wield a host of benefits, including stress-busting and restorative effects. Over the past couple of decades, many studies have been carried on the effects that spending time in nature can have on children with ASD, with research by Faber & Kuo (2009) showing that nature can provide a host of physical and cognitive effects in this group.
Evidence Obtained from Teachers
In a June 2013 report commissioned by Natural England, two important studies of outdoors time on children on the autism spectrum were discussed. The first study involved 10 teachers and school leaders in different types of schools catering to autistic students. The second synthesized the findings of various studies.
The first concluded that “The most compelling benefits of outdoor learning for autistic children were:
- Supporting the curriculum (bringing the curriculum to life)
- Skill development (social skills and well-being), and
- Personal, social and health education”
The second, meanwhile, found that various small-scale studies on specific activities (including animal therapy, gardening, summer camps, field visits) show that outdoor time is particularly useful for children with ASD, who can face more difficulties within a classroom setting. Children can learn vital skills during camping trips and other organized nature activities, including working as part of a team, and seeing how theoretical concepts apply to real life.
Parental Views on the Effects of Outdoor Time
A study by Chang & Chang (2010), which involved interviewing teachers, parents, and volunteers working with children with ASD, found that these adults reported specific benefits, in areas such as physical activity, social interaction, and communication. They also noted that sensitivities tended to decrease when children spent more time outdoors.
Considering that experiencing nature has been found to benefit both children and adults across the board, lowering stress levels and boosting energy and mood, it makes sense that nature should also wield powerful benefits on children with ASD.
What are the Benefits of Reduced Sensitivity?
Children on the spectrum can be very sensitive to their surroundings, sometimes finding specific sights and sounds overwhelming. Taking children outside and inviting them to see, listen to, and touch their surroundings, can help boost their confidence and enhance their ability to cope with sensitivity. By doing so, they can encounter improvements in physical activity, interaction with other children, communication, and a sense of emotional connection.
Richard Louv’s quote, mentioned above, highlights the importance of nature to all human beings. Nature has a unique ability to lower stress hormone levels, but it also invites children to play, interact with others, and enjoy the environment that surrounds them.
Parents who notice their kids thriving in nature can consider camping, horticulture, our outdoor walks as a way to strengthen the bonds between children and the natural world.
*Now a writer, Jackie Edwards is also a full-time mom to two girls, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Jackie is also diagnosed with Aspergers. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after.
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