Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects many children in the United States. It’s characterized by a lack of social skills, sensory processing disorders, and repetitive behaviors. That’s why many adults and children with autism face many challenges daily. Often, early diagnosis means a chance for the child to live a successful life in the future without much aid.
Many therapies exist to ease the symptoms and make autism manageable. While no two children experience the same comorbidities, children on the autism spectrum face core features of the disorder. Rock climbing has proven beneficial for physical, cognitive, communication, and sensory disabilities—thus helping children with autism face daily challenges.
In this article, discover why climbing is beneficial for children with autism.
What Is Climbing?
When a child enters a playground, they might head directly for the slides, swings, and various climbing structures. Children generally need unstructured playground time to develop the brain—and use their bodies in healthy ways. When a child is on the playground, their bodies produce endorphins that positively affect their mood and activity level.
Climbing is an activity that offers many benefits to the child’s mind and body. If you are looking for toys your child can use, here are some ideas:
- Monkey Bars Tower
- Inflatable Water Slide
- Obstacle Course
- Climb-n-Crawl Tunnel
- Caterpillar Tunnel
- Climbing Rope
Why Do Children with Autism Like Climbing?
Children love to jump and climb, but children with autism might do it excessively. This happens because they might seek a type of input known as proprioceptive input. The proprioceptive input is the input that the body receives through the joints and muscles. It usually provides the child with body awareness.
By jumping or climbing, the child obtains the input they need to calm down or increase their awareness of their surroundings. For children quickly overwhelmed by sensory input, climbing helps them calm down.
However, jumping and climbing can lead to many accidents if not done in a safe area. Furthermore, while proprioceptive input is a powerful tool, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. You need to know your child well enough to find the technique that works best for your little one.
Here are a few proprioceptive input ideas for activities you can incorporate into your child’s routine:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Pushing and pulling activities (resistance activities)
- Chewing activities
- Deep pressure applied to the joints
Read: 10 Best Chew Toys for Children with Autism.
Benefits of Climbing
Climbers help a child naturally exercise their bodies. Generally, climbing requires physical strength, stamina, and balance to move across the wall. It also requires fine and gross motor skills.
Climbing releases endorphins—a hormone that triggers positive emotions in our bodies. Since you start at the bottom and try to find your way up, it builds confidence. Every route is a new challenge—and getting to the top is a victory.
Climbing also needs problem-solving skills because the child needs to focus and execute the moves to tackle the challenge successfully. Furthermore, climbing requires a great amount of body awareness, space awareness, and awareness of those around you.
While climbing is an individual sport, it’s a sport that requires trusting other people and letting others trust you. Surprisingly, the sport promotes social interaction since there is plenty of downtime between climbs where the child can interact with other kids and create friends.
Climbing is not a sport for every child, but you can look at these benefits and try it:
- Climbing is a tactile activity
- Climbing gives the proprioceptive input the child needs
- The wall might be visually inviting and motivates the child to climb
- Climbing develops the vestibular system
- Climbing can help with the motor processing
- Develops eye-hand and eye-foot coordination
- Enhances core strength and muscle tone, especially in hands, arms, and legs
- Since children are often sedentary, climbing increases the physical level, assists digestion, and increases circulation
- Increases flexibility, preventing muscle atrophy
- Children focus better on other tasks after using their whole body
- Climbing helps children think sequentially because they scan the wall for the next hold to reach
- Actions such as up/down, right/left are incorporated into climbing and help children understand directions
- Climbing includes problem-solving skills
- Children need to make decisions when choosing a particular path
- Receptive language is developed as the child listens to and processes verbal direction from the teacher
- This receptive language is also further developed by children talking to one another while climbing
- Climbing also allows independent moving, especially since children with autism might not like physical contact
- Climbing can also introduce cross-curricular activities such as finding letters or spelling words on the wall
Children need at least 30 minutes of active play twice daily to thrive. Parents need to let their children grow physically by exploring outdoor equipment. That’s why you should allow children time for unstructured free play—and the opportunity to climb, slide, and swing in the playground.
Unstructured play helps children to develop their vestibular system. The vestibular sense is responsible for the child’s sense of balance and touch.
Swinging, on the other hand, allows the child to develop coordination. It’s one of the best activities to teach children about their sensory system. When a child swings, they adapt to different sensations. While it’s impossible to teach kids how to swing, the child can learn through practice. Swings move through the motion of moving back and forth—it’s an easy and fun activity for many children.
Other benefits of the swing include:
- It’s calming
- Encourages the child to communicate
- Increases spatial awareness
- It’s a soothing and fun activity
- Swinging develops gross motor skills as well as fine motor skills
- Develops a child’s core muscles and the balance sense