Exposure to nature for children with autism spectrum disorder: Benefits, caveats, and barriers

Health Place. 2019 Jan:55:71-79. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2018.11.005. Epub 2018 Nov 29.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disorder in countries across the world. Although recent studies have demonstrated the health benefits of nature for typically developing children and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it is unclear whether these benefits extend to children with ASD. In this study, we investigated whether benefits associated with exposure to nature could be observed by parents of children diagnosed with ASD. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 22 parents and caregivers of children on the spectrum from two cities in China. Results showed that exposure to nature provided motor-sensory, emotional and social benefits to children with ASD, although some of the identified benefits also come with concerns. Participants identified a wide range of barriers that make exposing their children to nature difficult. Among them, inappropriate behaviors, safety concerns, phobias and issues with the public realm emerged as critical hurdles. These findings suggest that practitioners should consider nature exposure as an intervention strategy, and planners and designers should create places that better accommodate the needs of children with ASD.

Keywords: Autism; Barriers; Benefits; Children with ASD; Exposure to nature.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • China
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Nature*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Parks, Recreational*
  • Phobia, Social
  • Safety*