Teaching Autistic Children How to Use Playground Equipment

Many children may run into trouble when using playground equipment. What do you do with a swing? What are the rules of seesaw play? While most children usually learn through imitation, children with autism often need direct instruction.

The posters included in this article are free, printable teaching tools. Full-size versions of the posters are also available for the cost of postage through Explorations Unlimited LLC.

Prepare Your Child With Autism for Playground Play

Point Ruston Playground
Kristin Kendle

Start slowly by bringing your child with autism to a playground and allowing him or her to just have fun. If possible, draw his or her attention to the other children, using simple language to help him notice just what's going on. "Look, that boy climbs the ladder. Next, he sits down. Now he slides. Uh oh–that little girl is too near the bottom of the slide. She might get bonked!"

If possible, work with your child (or student) one on one before hitting the playground on a busy afternoon. The posters that follow will help you to teach skills step by step. It may take practice for your child with autism to truly grasp the complex physical and social demands of playground equipment and etiquette.

Playground Swings

Before hitting the playground, spend some time looking at and talking about the steps outlined in the poster. If possible, practice each step privately on a backyard swing. It may take quite a while for a child with autism to learn to coordinate his arms, legs, and body to get the swing moving - and it may take quite a while, too, to perfect the art of sharing.

Then, print out the poster and bring it along to the playground. Together, observe children on the swings. Notice that they don't always follow the rules, but be sure your child understands that he should start by swinging just as described on the poster. As your child increases his physical and social skills, he too may choose to jump off the swing or otherwise change the rules, but the expectation of sharing will remain constant.

The Playground Slide

This poster provides an easy visual tool to help your child with autism grasp the steps involved with using the slide. Start by going over them visually and verbally. Then print out the poster and try the real thing. If possible, start by practicing in a private backyard before going to a crowded playground. Be sure your child with autism understands the importance of waiting in line and sitting before sliding. In addition to the points listed on the poster, be sure to help your child with autism make sure no one is sitting or standing on or near the bottom of the slide!

The Playground SeeSaw

The seesaw is a tricky piece of equipment, and it may take your child with autism quite a while to get the knack. In addition to using the poster to help your child understand the process and social expectations, you'll definitely need to practice one on one. If possible, include a peer buddy in practice sessions, so that your child can begin to feel what it's like to seesaw with a person of the same approximate weight.

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