This article will focus on the importance and benefits of play and the proper playground equipment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder- or ASD.
Autism is a complex condition that affects brain development which results in children interpreting things differently and overreacting to daily circumstances.
Parents with autistic kids can get this type of equipment for their homes and/or backyards.
ASD-affected children must be able to play like their normal peers. Playing with the right equipment can be extra beneficial for them. Play helps enrich the child’s learning experience.
Children with ASD reap benefits from outdoor play since it reduces their sensitivity to any kind of stimulus.
Outdoor play provides children with space and a tranquil environment for autistic youngsters to learn. Playground equipment allows various kinds of play which include role, physical and sensory.
Benefits of Play for Autistic Children
Role play enables kids to practice their responses to a variety of situations and appreciate the world around them from other points of view.
The sharing of playground equipment allows them to interact with other children and build relationships. They learn how to play by imitating other kids and gaining confidence to participate in group play.
Physical play boosts balance, coordination and soothes the mind by means of vestibular (sensory) stimulation. Autistic kids are comforted from rocking and spinning due to the relaxing effect.
Physical exercise helps children to acquire self-confidence and overcome clumsiness. They experience a sense of achievement by climbing up playground equipment.
Sensory play helps children with autism to try assorted gear and textures on their own terms. They gain helpful, practical information about things around them.
ASD-affected children find it hard to cope with day to day sensory stimulation. A mere touch or hug from another person can cause the autistic child to undergo sensory overload.
Sensory play is ideal for comforting an irritated or anxious youngster.
Playing on the right playground equipment enables a lot of movement that is beneficial to these autistic kids because it facilitates the functions of the vestibular system. For example, tire swings afford them the chance to swing, sway, spin, and jump.
Traditional monkey bars that involve climbing and swinging from one rung to the other is a good choice also. Special playgrounds designed for special children with the proper equipment enhance comfort and inclusiveness.
In considering the case of autistic children, it is important to consider the different kinds of stimulation. This will help parents identify the appropriate type of playground equipment for their loved ones.
Tactile Stimulation (Touch)
Tactile or Touch Sensory Stimulation entails the sensation of texture and touch.
Youngsters with autism may find it hard to tolerate the sensations caused by dressing, grooming or chewing food.
Autism does not affect all autistic children in the same way.
Using visual stimulation can help them relax, develop the necessary skills for better communication, and become more organized in their responses to stimulation.
Attractive and colorful shapes and sizes can make the learning methods fun for the autistic kids.
Auditory stimulation may benefit some kids with autism.
Toys and objects that make different sounds, such as bells, whistles and chimes can stimulate the nervous system, soothe their thoughts and entertain all at the same time.
Built-in Auditory Stations on playground equipment provides these youngsters with these play opportunities.
Vestibule Stimulation (Balance)
Autistic children who bounce and spin are helping to promote their vestibular system (inner ear) which helps them gain balance. It also helps the body determine when it moves and how fast it moves.
Motion engages the vestibular system. Playground activities which include sliding, swinging and riding on the merry-go-round are deemed recreational therapy for the autistic child.
Choosing the Right Equipment for Autistic Children
Autistic children have special needs. This should be the primary consideration of parents with special kids in buying playground equipment for their backyards. The major factors are listed below.
Safety is the number one factor when considering equipment for autistic children. Autism prevents the youngster from achieving the correct balance and making the right movements.
Thus, equipment like swings and slides must be suitable for them. Low hanging swings and shorter slides are safer than the higher versions and just as fun.
Handrails and fall protective barriers should be installed to prevent falls on all climbing equipment.
Durability complements safety. Parents cannot be assured that their children will be secure while playing if the materials are not 100% sturdy.
Materials for playground gear must be resistant to varying weather conditions. Routine inspections of equipment should be made to ensure that bolts have not loosened or fallen out, which would cause a collapse of the structure.
Of course price is a factor for most people. There are many equipment manufacturers and e-commerce sites that sell playground products at an affordable cost.
Compare prices and choose the equipment that is well built as well as affordable for your budget.
Some companies have warranties, which would replace the equipment if it failed/broke within a certain period of time. Shop around for the best equipment at the best price.
Playground equipment must have a specific scale for installation. This includes location and surrounding areas that will be ideal for children with ASD.
Make sure the scale fits the needs of autistic children. The size of the equipment in relation to the size of the playground should be considered before purchasing.
The playground equipment must help in stimulating the auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses of the autistic child. Kinesthetic refers to the ability to determine the movements and positions of the joints.
Playground Equipment for Autistic Children
There are various kinds of playground equipment that matches the needs of autistic children- let’s have a look.
Spinning along with jumping are instances of recurring motor behavior. Kids with autism who spin or jump activate their vestibular systems to feel-good sensations.
They may spin and jump to control themselves if they are nervous, tense or overwhelmed.
Movement is important in the development of kids. For those who have ASD, swinging equipment can affect and increase the brain’s capacity to process sensory information.
The swinging movement can also serve as therapy for youngsters with special needs. It helps them relax, ease their minds or lessen their worries. Swinging also helps the autistic child to attain stability and coordination.
This popular spinning seat below can fit a few kids at a time and you can hang it from a tree or indoors on a beam.
This spinning swing seat below is one of my favorite items. Hang it from a sturdy tree or existing swing set frame. Be sure to get a safety swing swivel so it can spin freely without twisting the ropes or chains.
Auditory or musical play equipment can help a child with special needs to communicate because music intervention can further develop their speech output.
The use of musical play makes them more socially connected with friends and playmates. Music is also one way of bettering autistic behavior by helping the child to follow instructions.
Below is a portable set of various musical instruments (15 different kinds!) that will stimulate creativity.
For something more permanent, here is a stand-up musical chime for outdoor playgrounds.
Climbing play equipment for autistic children will let them observe spatial directions. These are helpful for improving spatial skills, promoting motor skills, and advancing physical activity.
Below is an affordable, awesome old-school style metal geometric dome climber.
Below is a very durable plastic version of the geometric dome with a platform on top. This dome climber is much lighter in weight.
Below is a really cool and fun climber with a slide attached. Great for indoor as well as outdoor use.
Teeter-Totter Hybrid Equipment
Teeter-totter hybrid play equipment for autistic children promotes sensory control and helps them concentrate on muscle and core strengthening as well as balance.
The use of this play gear produces positive health benefits, releasing tension, does away with distractions, regulates body movement, and introduces soothing sensations.
Below is a very popular teeter-totter hybrid that teeters, totters, and spins!
Balancing Play Equipment
Balancing play equipment helps in creating the right balance and coordination for kids with special needs.
Age-appropriate equilibrium and coordination aid autistic children to take part in play activities without the risk of falling down and fewer chances of getting injured.
Below are some really cool balancing “stones” that can be arranged in any pattern.
Playhouses for Children With Autism
The shelter provided by a playhouse can benefit children with autism and the enclosed space can make them feel safe. Many of these playhouses include other equipment attached to and provide many play activities in one space.
Ideally, these playhouses contain several essential areas such as a couch for parents to interact, space for the youngsters to indulge in worthwhile activities, play area, tutoring area, and quiet space for reading.
Here is a really neat playhouse that can not only provide adequate shelter and comfort but is also a place to role play.
Autistic children are more likely to wander off if the area is not fenced. The sensory input may be too much and they might try to run away.
Perimeter fencing can prevent them from doing so, therefore, avoiding risky consequences.
This fencing below is acceptable for younger children and smaller to medium sized play areas. One of the good points on this product is that you can add additional panels to make it larger. It is also advertised as “no dig”.
Consider a Sandbox
The sandbox refers to the uniquely-shaped sensory sandbox that provides kids with special needs to experience different sensory experiences.
It is a great play area for children that fits right in your backyard or veranda. These include visual, physical and vestibular.
Sandboxes with sand activity tables offer them the chance to engage in sensory play.
These come in several sizes, measurements, and designs.
These sandboxes can have solid, mesh, or customized covers to keep out dirt and natural debris from soiling the sandbox.
Below is a great premade sandbox for younger kid(s).
Final Thoughts and Considerations
Play equipment for autistic children has many added benefits that enhance play and learning. With the right equipment, autistic children will find an outlet for creativity, stimulation of the senses and comfort.
As a teacher of special needs children, I can attest to the benefits of play and the added benefits of using the right equipment. I hope this article has been helpful and informational, be safe and have fun!
Over 14 years in special education with a BA in psychology. I work daily with children of all kinds, with a special focus on childhood development and play using music and play equipment among other tools.