Autism Spectrum

Child plays in quiet spaceChildren with various autism spectrum and other sensory integration disorders might struggle with the increased levels of sensory stimulation at a playspace. Their nervous systems (senses) over-respond and they might behave disruptively or in ways that seem strange to others.

With certain considerations, however, children with sensory integration disorders can enjoy your playspace and even thrive there. Incorporating a few special calming spaces into your playspace provides children with autism spectrum and sensory integration disorders, as well as all children, an opportunity to peacefully re-focus and re-center.

Your calming places might be a separate room in an indoor play area or a cave in a playground. These can be tunnels or any place children can be apart from the chaos of the play. These special places integrate the need for calm with the need for excitement. For children with sensory integration disorders and autism spectrum disorders, this need can be acute.

What does this room or cave look like?

  • Few windows or openings
  • Quiet but accessible to the flow of the play area
  • Insulated against outside sound
  • Neutral or white colors
  • Soft surfaces

If indoors:

  • White floor mats and pillows
  • Consider including fiber optic lights and projectors
  • Calming music and nature sounds
  • Tactile blankets and pillows
  • Vestibular swing system

Helpful links:

Read about sensory therapy and "sensory adapted" playgrounds in this special issue of INspire, a journal from the MukiBaum (Ontario) treatment centers for people living with disabilities: http://www.mukibaum.com/Downloads/INspire_iss1_vol1_rv1.pdf

Read about a family raising a child with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs in this series from Wondertime, a magazine for parents of young children: http://wondertime.go.com/parent-to-parent/article/jimmy-foard.html

Read about a playground designed for children with autism: http://www.korkat.com/special_projects.htm

American Academy of Pediactrics. (2006). AAP Children's Health Topics: Autism. http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/autism.cfm

Autism and PDD Support Network, http://www.autism-pdd.net/

The Autism Society of America: http://www.autism-society.org

Autism Speaks, http://www.autismspeaks.org/

Roberts, Chris. (November 3, 2006). New play aims for balanced view of autism.
Minnesota Public Radio. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/11/03/autismplay/

University of Michigan Health System. (2006). Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/autism.htm

Website of Jet Fuel Only, rock band created by middle-schoolers with autism, http://www.jetfuelonlyband.com/

(Photo courtesy of Big Toys)