X is an eight-year-old boy who attends an autism class within a mainstream National School. X was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old, he initially attended his local mainstream primary and then transitioned to his current placement within a year. X loves to play with water and kick footballs, he loves playground equipment and seeks intense movement experiences on the swing in particular – the higher and faster the better! X expresses his needs and wants using single words and short phrases. He responds very well to visual supports in the format of photographs and words or symbols and words. These have proven effective in helping X to understand where he needs to go, what needs to happen within his daily routine, and what is expected of him by others. In turn, X also effectively uses symbols to request ‘help’, ‘more time’ or a ‘break’ if he is unable to use language to make his needs known.
X experiences periods of being dysregulated across home and school settings. When observations and assessment took place to understand what was happening for X before and during these times it was established that long periods of indoor sedentary activities were a contributing factor. A sensory assessment established that X is a movement seeker and requires additional vestibular input regularly throughout the day and across all settings. Vestibular input is the sensation of any change in position, direction, or movement of the head. When there are limited opportunities for additional vestibular input, there is a direct impact on X’s ability to maintain focus and attention. Unstructured times both indoors and outdoors also led to behaviours of concern such as stone throwing at windows and cars.
A wellbeing plan was established across home and school environments (see below). Under each area of wellbeing (physical, sensory, emotional, social, communication) specific advice was given to guide supporting adults in ensuring that outdoor play met X’s needs and was a successful experience for him.
Outdoor time was scheduled regularly throughout the day at school and included on X’s symbol schedule so that he could see when it was approaching. He was also given opportunities to request additional time outdoors throughout the day. Before going outside, X was given a choice board with photos of the activities available (see below). Depending on the time available, he could choose 1-3 activities, and these were then placed on an activity schedule which helped X to understand what was happening and when the time outside would end. It was important that supporting adults included an option of at least one vestibular activity on the choice board. Not all options were available at all times, depending on the needs of other pupils within the school.
Having wet gear available both at home and school was paramount in ensuring this outdoor programme was possible. This included widely available waterproof trousers, jacket and wellingtons.
On arrival home each day X had a snack, got changed and time outside was then scheduled. This was important as he had a forty-minute bus journey to travel home each day.
Having regular opportunities across environments and throughout the day for outdoor play had multiple positive effects on X’s wellbeing. These included physical benefits such as improved sleep and increased appetite. This in turn had a direct impact on his sensory and emotional regulation and as a result reduced incidents of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated in both at home and in school. X’s parents reported a marked improvement in his ability to relax in the evenings and engage with his family to watch TV or play a game, they attributed the fresh air and extra physical activity to this. Having experienced the benefit of committing to regular time outdoors, the family invested in additional resources such as a zip line, water wall and bouncy castle. These were very positively received and enjoyed by X and his sibling.