The reason children play is no accident. Childhood development is highly affected by play. In addition to providing an opportunity for parents to engage with their children, play also impacts the cognitive, emotional, physical and social well-being of the child. However, not just any playtime will do. Time on a video game can be harmful to the brain and will not provide the same benefits as old-fashioned play. Children need an opportunity to move their bodies for optimal childhood development.
For children on the spectrum, the importance of playtime is even more pronounced. When outdoor play and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are combined, it provides a chance for those children to overcome the sensory issues common with people on the spectrum by introducing opportunities to expose them to unusual sounds, objects and situations in a safe environment. Children with ASDs also benefit from exercise and the ability to test out motor skills and balance as well as challenges that can help them move past certain fears.
At its most basic, this type of play provides opportunities for them to test out and refine a variety of skills, like swinging for vestibular balance. Children need to hold themselves upright in their seats as well as learn to be aware of their bodies and how their motions impact the world around them. Swinging impacts motor skills as well, from the gross motor skills required to pump their legs to the fine motor skills required to hold the chain.
Outdoor play and fine motor skills go hand in hand in other ways too. Old-fashioned games like jacks, pick up sticks, dominoes and card games help children develop the motor coordination necessary to pick up small or thin objects. It also provides an opportunity to develop dexterity, social awareness, the rules of fair play and self-esteem. Outdoor play and visual processing are also connected. Games such as hide and seek help children to understand volume as they find places to hide and object permanence in that things and people still exist when they can’t be seen.
Outdoor play and Autism Spectrum Disorders are also important to combine because up to 50 percent of people with ASDs are nonverbal or with limited verbal skills. Being able to interact physically, especially with caregivers, helps to reinforce and build communication skills. Also, a series of diverse sensory experiences, such as those afforded by outdoor play and old-fashioned games, may help children with ASDs avoid experiencing sensory overload.