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Outdoor Time is Powerful Therapy for Hoosiers 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: M. Kuhlman.
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: M. Kuhlman.
January 14, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - In Indiana 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.

Social gains can be made when children spend time outside of a building, said Kathy Ambrosini, especially for children with autism spectrum disorders.

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

If outdoor time is a new addition to the schedule, Ambrosini said, the child should bring along a favorite item - and it's best not to have an agenda. She advised letting the child lead the way. For older children connected to tech devices, she said, it's OK to bring the devices 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 Indiana stop the adventures, Ambrosini said, since there is value in every season - and the biggest benefits often are for secondary issues, such as anxiety and depression.

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

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

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN