"Momma. Climb tree." said Joshua at the same time every night after dinner. This past summer we had a fabulous routine of going outside to climb trees, kick the ball, play chase, and walk around our beautiful bay 3 times to finish our nightly outdoor routine. Everyday like clockwork, around 6:15 Joshua would say, "Kick ball" or "Climb tree!" We had wonderful family time when we were all together, or just one-on-one with Momma or Daddy. Weekends we spent our time at the park or out for walks, getting outside was easy and apart of our daily life. And yes he still had lots screen time, as I don't want to paint a picture of us living outdoors. But we definitely spent a good amount of time outside on a regular basis and hopefully showing our son that nature is another resource he has to help be calm or feel good in, alongside all the other tools we use. We even tried having him play outside by himself, GASP! He would play with his cars just outside the front door, and he knew to stay close. We supervised from inside and had the windows open to easily communicate.
Sometimes I was so proud as to how much time we were getting outside, but yet it always felt weird to think this because looking back at my childhood, I LIVED outside! We left the house in the morning on our bikes, maybe came home for lunch, back to the park, home for dinner, and then back outside till the street lights came on. My husband and I talk about this all the time, and how know it feels we have to make such a conscious effort to get outside when it used to be a natural part of our lives. Now we need to remember that for the first 2 years of Joshua's life, it was CHAOTIC and doing anything outside that required more than a pair of shoes and a hat was not an easy task. Getting ready for a long stroller ride or a day at the park usually resulted in giant meltdowns just to get out the door and then always staying close enough to the car incase our trip was over quickly and he was uncontrollably crying for reasons we didn't know.
The first year when Joshua was losing his mind, I would take him outside and sit on the front step and we would watch the cars go by. As soon as we sat on that step he would stop crying and just be mesmerized by the cars, buses, taxis, trucks, people, and trees all around. I remember sitting out there a lot during our first summer as parents. I even remember sitting out there when we had guests in the house because he couldn't handle other people in his space, and the idea of someone maybe interacting with him was way too much. Nature has always been a wonderful tool for us to help Joshua calm and self-regulate. This is not rocket science, most people know that when in nature we naturally become calm, there is more space to move and feel safe, its not usually visually overstimulating (depending where you are) and we all know how amazing fresh air is for the body and soul. Nature is natural self-regulation.
As busy parents we do our best to encourage our son and as a family to get outside for the many benefits. But we tend to use nature as apart of Joshua's sensory diet. We encourage climbing trees, jumping in puddles, picking up sticks, throwing rocks, collecting leafs and pine cones, rolling down hills. I mean this should just be apart of any childhood but having a love for nature is something we need to instill in our children. If they are never outside or told to not touch anything, how will they ever learn to love it? The first time I heard my son ask to climb a tree, I was filled with love and a level of proudness as a parent that I had done my job! He wanted to go outside and play with nature. All of this may seen so simple, but climbing trees, throwing rocks, banging large branches all provides wonderful sensory stimulation that helps Joshua STAY self-regulated. He is stimulating all of his senses, the rough texture of bark, the smell of grass, the taste of snow, the muscles to climb trees, the beautiful visually stimulating colours of nature, the sense of calm and confidence being in nature. All of this is sensory stimulation and his body and all of our bodies need it. He just needs a little more on a regular basis. Going for walks during the day, before bedtime, or to hopefully stop a meltdown was also a tool we used regularly. Walking is so calming for him. I guess because his world slows down, he has control, gets the good impact in his joints and muscles while walking, breaths in fresh air, and knows that the world won't bombard him while outside.
He is fine with snow pants and a winter coat and a hat, but the one integral aspect is mittens. He doesn't not like to wear the weather proof ones that enable him be outside for hours. He only likes to wear the ones that are thin and if they get a drop of snow on them the cold snow is so cold for him that our outdoor time is done. One way I have tried to accommodate this is using socks, they are about the same thickness of material and as most houses have, I use all the mix-matched lost socks. This way I can bring lots of extras outside in hopes that a new pair will solve the problem. Doesn't always work, but we try. In the book her mantra is "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." She provides great tips for warm clothing that can allow people to stay outside for long periods of time, but for a sensory kid this may not always be the case. Some sensory kids have a hard time regulating their body temperature or feel the cold way more than others, or can't stand the feeling of a hat on their head. Figuring out what works for them is very important, takes lots of trial and error, but it's important because Nature has a natural ability to help with self-regulation.
I am a mom to an amazing young son who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 2.5 years old. This blog is about the journey we have travelled as a family to discover how our son communicates and to be a happy child in a world that doesn't quite feel right to him. I am an Early Childhood Educator and I use my passion of play and individual needs to support our son to live a joyous and happy life.