Navigating the Playground: Top Tips for Families with Children with Autism


Playgrounds are beautiful places for children to explore, socialize, and have fun. However, for families with children on the autism spectrum, a trip to the playground can present unique challenges. Understanding how to create a positive and supportive playground experience is essential as a parent or caregiver. This blog post will explore the top tips for families with children with autism to make their playground visits enjoyable, safe, and inclusive.

Tips for Visiting Playgrounds
  1. Choose the Right Time
    Selecting the appropriate time to visit the playground can significantly impact your child’s experience. Aim for quieter hours when the playground is less crowded, such as early mornings or late afternoons on weekdays. Fewer children mean less overwhelming stimuli, giving your child more space and time to engage comfortably.
  2. Prepare for the Visit
    Before heading to the playground, take some time to prepare your child for the experience. Use visual schedules or social stories to help them understand what to expect. Discuss playground rules and proper behavior in an easily understandable way for your child. Preparing them mentally can reduce anxiety and make the outing more predictable.
  3. Identify Sensory-Friendly Playgrounds
    Some communities have playgrounds designed with sensory needs in mind. Seek such inclusive playgrounds in your area, often featuring equipment that addresses various sensory preferences. These playgrounds may include sensory panels, quiet spaces, and adaptive swings catering to children with autism and other sensory processing challenges.
  4. Gradual Exposure
    Consider a gradual exposure approach for children who may feel overwhelmed by new environments. Start by visiting the playground during quieter times for short periods, gradually increasing the duration and frequency as your child becomes more comfortable. This step-by-step process can build confidence and familiarity with the playground setting.
  5. Bring Comfort Items
    To provide a sense of security and familiarity, encourage your child to bring comfort items to the playground. These items could be a favorite toy, a cozy blanket, or noise-canceling headphones. These familiar objects can serve as a soothing anchor, especially during heightened anxiety.
  6. Encourage Parallel Play
    Children with autism might prefer parallel play, where they engage in similar activities alongside other children without direct interaction. This type of play is entirely acceptable and can help your child feel more at ease in a social setting. As they become more comfortable, they may initiate interactions on their own.
  7. Support Social Interactions
    If your child shows interest in social interactions, gently facilitate positive play experiences with other children. Encourage shared activities and communication while being respectful of your child’s boundaries. Praise their efforts and successes, reinforcing positive social behaviors.
  8. Be Observant and Flexible
    Pay attention to your child’s cues and be ready to adjust your plans accordingly. Consider taking a break or leaving the playground if your child appears overwhelmed or agitated. Flexibility is vital to prioritizing your child’s comfort and well-being.

Visiting the playground with a child on the autism spectrum can be an enriching and enjoyable experience with the right approach. Planning ahead, choosing suitable playgrounds, and understanding your child’s needs can create a positive and inclusive playground experience. Remember that each child is unique, so it’s essential to tailor your approach based on their preferences and sensitivities. With patience, support, and a little creativity, the playground can become a place of joy, growth, and social connection for children with autism.

About Circle City ABA

Circle City ABA passionately nurtures progress through play with ABA therapy. We develop programs and services specifically designed for each child. Our child-centered, compassionate approach to therapy brings family goals and clinical best practices in tandem to help kids learn and grow. We’ll work together to define success and help your child achieve it. Contact our admissions team for more information on our services and how we can support you and your child.

About the Author

Heather de Jong

Heather de Jong is an accomplished Marketing & Communications Manager known for her expertise in the I/DD field. With a deep passion for empowering individuals with disabilities, Heather leverages her expertise in marketing and communications to raise awareness about the importance of ABA therapy in improving the lives of children on the autism spectrum.

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