An exploration of the outdoor play experiences of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder

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Blake, Áine
Sexton, Julie
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Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork
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Background: Outdoor play is seen as a crucial and valuable experience for all children. It is not an optional extra, but an essential component of a child’s everyday life and environment. Nonetheless, the literature consistently demonstrates that children with disabilities participate less in outdoor play in comparison to their typically developing peers. However, little research exists with regards to the play experiences of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in outdoor play. Thus, establishing the outdoor play experiences of children with ASD is of utmost importance. Aims: The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore and understand the outdoor play experiences of preschool children with ASD, as a means to better understand what play meant to them, how they experienced play, and to identify the supports required to facilitate their participation in outdoor play in their preschool setting. Participants: Seventeen participants informed the findings of this study: six children in a special ASD class, five mothers, and six members of preschool staff. Materials and Methods: A qualitative methodology was used. The study employed a multi-method approach combining one focus group, semi-structured interviews, playground observations, and projective techniques. First-person perspectives of the children were sought, a rarity in research, that their voices might further illuminate their needs. Findings: Three core themes emerged: features of play (freedom to do my thing, being with others), opportunities for play (what is available, when it is available, why it is available), and power of play (how I feel about play, what play does to me). Conclusion: The findings of this study support the premise that outdoor play is important to children with ASD, and necessary and valuable for them. In this study, outdoor play was highly valued by all participants and strongly supported by teachers and parents. The children with ASD had varied outdoor play experiences relating to affordances at school and home, including social, sensory and physical dimensions. While the children experienced challenges to their play, particularly in social domains, the outdoor context provided unique opportunities for these to be addressed and explored.
Autism spectrum disorder , Children , Preschool , Outdoor play
Blake, Á. and Sexton, J. (2017) An exploration of the outdoor play experiences of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Cork: Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork.
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©2017, Áine Blake and Julie Sexton.