Autism spectrum disorder is a condition which is related to brain development and it impacts how a child interacts and socializes with others, repetitive patterns of behavior, speech delay etc.
Children with autism generally have a tough time managing their behavior. Emotional collapse and anxiety makes it very hard for them to participate in typical activities or, in some cases, to even leave the house or change the routine. In majority cases these children react to physical or emotional stress without any particular reason. This is their way of simply expressing feelings of excitement, frustration, or anxiety.
Pattern of behavior in Autism may include:
Rocking, spinning, hand flapping, or repetitive behavior.
Self-injurious, such as biting or head-banging,
Routine change can cause behavioral issues like not accepting easily.
Problems with coordination or movement patterns, such as clumsiness or walking on toes, and has odd, stiff or exaggerated body language.
Unusually sensitive to light, sound or touch.
Keeps on staring on an object or activity with abnormal intensity or focus
Has specific food preferences. Usually it's seen that children on the spectrum like only a few foods. The preference can be for a specific taste or a texture.
How Nature helps in healing Autism
Several studies and programs held on the effect of outdoor activities or the natural environment on these children showed major improvement in several areas like social interaction, behavior, emotions, cognition, sensory issues and physical activity. These two theories support the result.
Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART)
Theory proposes that exposure to nature can restore abilities around attention and focus as well as enhance cognitive functioning and behavioral performance.
Ulrich’s Stress Recovery Theory (SRT)
Proposes that when people are psychologically or physically stressed, exposure to unthreatening natural environments will reduce stress
and have a restorative effect.
Outdoor activities for autistic kids
The natural environment plays an important role in impacting a kid's emotional wellbeing and also provides an escape from the over-stimulating artificial environment.
These activities can be:
Walking barefoot on grass.
Gardening includes activities such as planting, watering plants, and playing with mud.
Outdoor games with other kids, like hide and seek, basketball, slides, running etc.
Experiencing the environment like listening to birds, various sounds, animals, greenery around etc.
4 main reasons why you should let your child go barefoot
Grounding is also known as earthing, being present, being mindful or connecting to the Earth. Grounding makes you aware of what is happening but also makes you aware of the pauses between action and activity.
1. Neutralize free radicals and help sleep better.
Immune disorders and chronic disease are all related to inflammation caused by free radicals. Improving the number of negative electrons in our body is important to keep free radicals under control, and the easiest way to do this is by Earthing.
Walking barefoot for at least 30 min on the Earth’s natural surfaces gives our body time to absorb those necessary negative electrons. If we encourage children to do this activity with their parents it can also improve everyone’s quality of sleep!
2. Stimulate pressure points & the nervous system
When children wear shoes, they usually miss out on the most basic sensory experience i.e.– the feeling of dirt, rocks, leaves and twigs beneath their feet. Our feet have multiple pressure points and nerve endings to convey messages to other parts of our body. So wearing shoes makes the nerve endings dull while, if we walk barefoot, the nerve endings are stimulated. This stimulates the entire nervous system. It's a form of sensory play.
3. Strengthen their joints & muscles
Walking barefoot is very good for improving balance and posture as it strengthens the muscles in children’s feet and ankles
4. Fostering a connection with nature
Removing the child’s shoes helps them become more aware of their surroundings – how does the ground feel? Is there a sharp rock ahead? What was that rustle in the bushes? Their senses are improved – they start paying more attention.
Effect of natural environment on Autism
Cognitive benefits after connecting with nature
Spending time in nature helps in observation and to be more creative: Child’s interaction with the outdoor environment helps them to build the great powers of creativity and imagination.
Playing in nature reinforces collaborative skills and language development.
Outdoor skill education helps improve a child’s health, lifestyle and learning as well as improving intrapersonal, interpersonal skills and ability to learn and focus.
Connecting to nature increases children’s skills: Nature develops imagination and sense of wonder which are very important in life-long learning.
Mental benefits after connecting with nature
Nature helps in reducing stress.
Nature reinforces positive feelings: when children play with each other they develop positive feelings about each other.
Children with insufficient Vitamin D are more likely to have a compromised immune system
Children with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after walking in outdoor areas develop better focus and concentration.
Physical health benefits after connecting with nature
Nature’s experience improves balance, agility and coordination.
Children who spend more time in outdoor spaces become more active.
So, let your child enjoy the nature and be free.
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Barakat, H. A. E. R., Bakr, A., & El-Sayad, Z. (2019). Nature as a healer for autistic children. Alexandria Engineering Journal, 58(1), 353–366. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aej.2018.10.014
Scartazza, A., Mancini, M. L., Proietti, S., Moscatello, S., Mattioni, C., Costantini, F., di Baccio, D., Villani, F., & Massacci, A. (2020). Caring local biodiversity in a healing garden: Therapeutic benefits in young subjects with autism. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 47, 126511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2019.126511
Li, D., Larsen, L., Yang, Y., Wang, L., Zhai, Y., & Sullivan, W. C. (2019). Exposure to nature for children with autism spectrum disorder: Benefits, caveats, and barriers. Health & Place, 55, 71–79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2018.11.005
Lee, M., Kim, S., & Ha, M. (2019). Community greenness and neurobehavioral health in children and adolescents. Science of The Total Environment, 672, 381–388. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.454