Autism is a complex, lifelong condition, which affects how a person understands the world. People with autism share difficulties in social communication, social skills and social imagination, and may have other characteristics such as intense interests and sensory sensitivity. Their condition may affect them in very different ways, for example, some children have severe leaning difficulties with little speech whilst others have above average intelligence.
Most people are aware of the benefits of fresh air and physical exercise, and although we can get these from a run round the local park, it is rewarding to go out into the countryside and to engage with nature. There are many beautiful places in to visit and lots of wildlife to see and experience when walking in the woods for example, or following a nature trail. Children with autism may benefit from new sensory experiences, such as sounds, smell and the touch of plants. The sense of exhilaration that can be felt on a hillside on a windy day is an experience that is wonderful to share and may be a memory which stays with a child for years to come. When children with autism engage with the natural world, they may develop a special interest in birds, animals or plants. There may be opportunities to take part in countryside activities with their school, family or friends, developing social skills and new types of conversations.
Although there is a lot of evidence supporting the benefits of nature and the countryside for the health and well-being of children in general, few studies have been undertaken with children on the autistic spectrum. Autism and Nature’s goals are to learn more about how nature and the countryside benefits children with autism; to raise awareness about the therapeutic value of nature; and to develop practical resources to help children, and those who care for them, to experience the natural world.