A sensory room is a safe haven, free of triggering sounds, sights, smells and textures. Creating such a space involves choosing the right area, lighting and furnishings to avoid overwhelming those with sensory processing issues. With a little ingenuity, parents of children on the autism spectrum can use these same principles to establish a fun, safe and sensory-friendly backyard for their kids.
Provide Spaces for Outdoor Play
Studies show that playing outside offers many benefits to growing children. Sunshine increases vitamin D to strengthen the bones and keep immune systems strong, while fresh air helps reduce stress and serves as a natural mood-booster. When it comes to kids with sensory disorders, outdoor play can have a positive impact on their cognitive and sensory development as well.
From chirping birds and colorful flowers to soft grass and berry bushes, the outdoors offers a wide range of things to see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Setting up a sensory-friendly backyard allows you to regulate your child’s exposure to the bright, noisy and unpredictable world outside. In this balanced environment, they can explore these elements at their own pace and improve their sensory skills.
Consider Safety Measures
Safety is paramount when creating a sensory-friendly space for your child. Adding protective features to your backyard can help your kids feel more secure and put your mind at ease when they play on their own. Consider the following options for keeping your child safe in their outdoor play area.
Safe Patio Furniture
The type of patio furniture you choose for your child’s sensory-friendly play space can be a safety concern. For instance, bumpy wicker furniture may be a bad fit for touch-sensitive kids. Children may also sustain splinters from distressed wooden pieces or burns from metal patio furniture that has been sitting in the sun all day.
To keep your kids from getting hurt on your patio furniture, consider finished teak pieces that are naturally resistant to weathering and splintering. If you prefer wicker or metal, think about using a canopy to keep your seats from getting too hot. You can also add plush seat cushions to the furniture to soften up the space.
Gates and Fences
Setting up a fence around your yard can prevent kids from wandering off when playing outside by themselves. They are especially necessary for homes with swimming pools or nearby waterways that little ones may accidentally stumble into. Fences can also keep stray dogs and roaming wildlife out of your yard and away from your child.
Tool and Garden Sheds
People sometimes leave their gardening tools out after finishing yard work. Children may accidentally trip over rakes, trimmers and lawnmowers as they run around outside. They could also cut themselves on hedge clippers and pruning shears left in the yard. Stowing these items in a locked shed can help prevent accidental injuries.
Create Secluded Places
Even if they are enjoying their time outside, kids with sensory disorders need a place where they can escape sensory overload. Creating a designated relaxation spot is a great way to help these children develop their coping skills. Use these tips to create a quiet retreat where kids can take a break from overwhelming sights and sounds until they are ready to go out for more backyard exploring.
- Close Off the Space: Set up a gazebo or pergola that can provide shade from bright sunlight and surround your child with comfort and safety. You can also use a tent or backyard playhouse for your child’s sensory-friendly secluded space.
- Add Sensory-Friendly Materials: When choosing patio furniture materials, select pieces that provide tactile comfort for your kids. A cotton hammock could offer a soft and soothing spot for them to relax and sway for a few moments. Sound-absorbing accessories like thick pillows and rugs can ensure that the space stays quiet as your child gets their bearings.
- Use a Calming Color Palette: Avoid filling the space with bright and bold colors that could overstimulate the senses. Instead, choose pieces in neutral black, white, gray and beige tones. You can also opt for cool blue and green furnishings to promote a tranquil feel.
Keep the Layout Consistent
Consistency and routine are important when it comes to designing spaces for kids with autism spectrum and sensory disorders. It fosters familiarity with their surroundings that allows them to feel safe. Keeping everything in the same spot can help children focus on playing rather than feeling uneasy about things being out of place.
When you decide on a sensory-friendly patio layout, make sure you plan for the long-term. Establish specific areas for sunbathing, gardening and get-togethers to avoid moving furniture around and interfering with your kid’s playtime. When decorating a small patio, stick to space-saving furniture like benches and bistro sets for a simple setup that won’t overcrowd or overwhelm your child.
Soothe with Accessories
Adding certain outdoor decor items can help create an organized and sensory-friendly atmosphere for your kids to enjoy their open-air playtime. Try decorating with lights such as solar lanterns with blue or green shades for a soft and soothing glow that helps keep kids calm. You can also use a spacious storage chest as an outdoor toy box where your child can keep their favorite toys.
Some accessories also serve as tools for fun and relaxing sensory activities. Starting a small garden in a patio planter lets kids experience the feeling of plants and soil as well as the smell of herbs and flowers. The gentle sway of a porch swing can provide gentle and enjoyable movement for children, especially if you choose an egg-style swing that surrounds their body and keeps them cozy.
Hazards to Avoid in the Sensory Backyard
When creating a safe and functional sensory play area for your child, there are a few things you should avoid bringing into the space. Steer clear of reflective statues and outdoor wall decor that could trigger kids who are sensitive to bright lights. In the garden, refrain from planting toxic foliage as well as roses, cacti and other prickly plants that could poke or scratch your little ones.
Regular backyard maintenance can prevent sensory hazards as well. Investing in furniture cleaner and covers is a great way to maintain your patio furniture and ensure it stays comfy and sturdy for a long time. Routine landscaping can also help prevent trips, falls and other accidents by keeping your walkways even and preventing injuries from overgrown shrubs and falling tree limbs.