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Being Outdoors Can Benefit Utahans Living with Disabilities

PHOTO: The 'get outside' message for children is being extended to those with disabilities. A professional outdoor educator cites benefits for a child's development, as well as stress relief for the whole family. Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
PHOTO: The 'get outside' message for children is being extended to those with disabilities. A professional outdoor educator cites benefits for a child's development, as well as stress relief for the whole family. Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
January 12, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY - In Utah and across the nation, the 'get outside' message for children is being extended to kids with disabilities. A professional outdoor educator is asking families to think about the power of nature, even as they're busy dealing with the other priorities of a child with a disability. Kathy Ambrosini,creator of programs designed to include people with disabilities, says there are social gains to be made when children spend time outside of a building, especially for children with autism spectrum disorders.

"Forming relationships with humans are very, very important and sometimes the early stepping stones to those are the natural inclination of a child toward other forms of life," says Ambrosini.

She adds if outdoor time is a new addition to the schedule, the child should bring along a favorite item and it's best not to have an agenda. Ambrosini advises letting the child lead the way. For older children connected to tech devices, she says it's OK to bring them along and use them to take photos, use the device camera as binoculars, or look up information about a bug.

Don't let the colder winter weather in Utah stop the adventures. Ambrosini says there is value in every season and the biggest benefits are often for secondary issues, such as anxiety and depression.

"Stepping outside for maybe even three minutes. It's short, it's sweet, but the air smells different," she says. "The breeze feels different. It's another kind of relief."

As a bonus, she finds parents and caregivers experience stress relief, too.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT