Get Out, Explore & Have Fun: Take a Hike

Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at or at

Take a Hike!

With so much on your plate, it can be hard to find the time or inclination to take your child with autism on a simple walk in the woods, a visit to a pond, or a trip to the beach.  Yet people with autism are often very much attracted to a connected with the natural world.  And, because there are few social or physical demands made by chirping birds, rippling brooks or cool green forests, you may find that your child calms down, relaxes, and enjoys himself.  You may just find that you do the same.

Start by choosing a nearby destination that is likely to be uncrowded and undemanding.  Before you go, take a trip on your own with a camera or video camera in hand, and create a preview of your plan.  Ideally, choose a location with a water attraction: a pond, lake, brook, river or beach.

Choose a day that’s not physically challenging (terribly hot, cold, or wet), and tell your child about your plan.  Show her your preview images or video, and discuss how long you’ll be out (no more than a couple of hours), what you’ll see and do, what snacks you’ll bring along, what you might see along the way, and so forth.

Then, get out and start enjoying.

Pay close attention to your child’s demeanor, her likes and dislikes, and her preferences.  Does she enjoy walking briskly for long distances, or get tired easily?  Is he bothered by bugs, or oblivious to them?  Is the woods a good choice, or would your child be happier in a meadow, a city park, or another type of natural setting?

What does your child notice?  Our son happens to be very interested in birds, and can spend a good deal of time watching birds on ponds, in marshes, and near harbors.  To make the experience more interesting and fun for all of us (his parents, sister, and family friends), we now go for nature walks and bring along binoculars and a field guide to birds of New England.

If there is water in your area, spend some time there.  Try skipping stones, or experimenting together by tossing in different types of objects (stones, pine cones, acorns, wood chips).  Is your child following your lead?  Can you follow his?

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