Getting Outside

“As long as he had three meals a day, my son would probably be happy just sitting on his bed, flapping his hands and rocking,” commented the dad of an eight-year-old youngster diagnosed with autism. “I’m concerned about his physical health and emotional health, so I’m looking for some ideas for getting him out and about more.”

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This simple three-step strategy has helped a number of individuals with autism become more active. Step 1 is “do it anyway.” Step 2 is “make it routine.” And Step 3 is “keep it simple.

DO IT ANYWAY. Sometimes we fall into the trap of assuming a person doesn’t like doing something just because they don’t express enthusiasm about the activity. When my boys were young, I learned to avoid the question, “Do you want to go for a walk?” I also learned to avoid making comments like, “You’d better get some exercise” or “It isn’t good for you to just sit around.” Instead, I just announced that we were going on an adventure hike or a bike ride and shooed everyone out the door. As long as we are focusing on the well-being of youngster, we don’t need their permission. Parents and teachers of all teenagers learn quickly that teens often act apathetic and bored even if they are actually looking forward to an activity. The same can be true of So the key to success is to do it anyway.

MAKE IT ROUTINE. Individuals with autism often thrive on routine. Make an outdoor excursion part of your son’s daily routine. Mention it at bedtime or at breakfast. If he has a daily calendar or schedule, insert “outdoor adventure” in each day. Over time, it will become part of his daily routine, and he will just expect to get outside every day.

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Outdoor activities don’t need to be time-consuming nor cumbersome. We can make an impact on physical and emotional health by just walking around the block, walking out to pick up the newspaper and mail each day, throwing sticks for our dog to retrieve, shooting some hoops in the driveway, swinging in the sunshine, jumping on a trampoline, watering the outdoor plants, raking leaves, sweeping the sidewalk, tromping in the snow, or throwing a soft, squishy ball back and forth. The idea is to spend at least 15 minutes moving around outside every day.

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NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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