Playground Equipment and Autism- The Sensory Rich Playground for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Playground Equipment and Autism- The Sensory Rich Playground for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Young children learn by using all of their senses, so your playground should offer as many experiences as possible. For kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, this need for balance can be extreme. The more sensory experiences, the more is learned and gained during development.  The playground should include the following sensory areas:


girl_playingColor and Varying Elevations: Adults tend to look at the functional aspect of playgrounds that includes the natural coloration and a traditional theme.  Ofttimes, the natural looking playground is aesthetic for the adult rather than the child.  It’s rare that the typical child-oriented environment consists of typical natural coloration, i.e. beige, green, brown.  More likely, a playground with a variety of shapes, colors, and forms will offer the most stimulation and improve spatial perception.

The vestibular system consists of small, liquid-filled tubes in the inner ear and is important in maintaining a child’s sense of balance.  The movement of liquid through these canals produces stimulation of the nervous system. Sensory experiences change every time the head moves in a different direction or at a different speed; this explains children’s great enjoyment of whirling, spinning, swing, or being tossed in the air.   During the first years, children’s vestibular systems are very receptive to even small amount s of stimulation, and slight variations in speed and direction have a substantial effect on balance.  The vestibular system works with the senses of touch and vision as well as sensations from the joints and muscles to help children orient themselves in space.  When children go down a slide, for example, they both feel and see themselves moving downward through space.  by about the age of 8, the sensory-motor development of children is well established.

Tire Swing Tire Swing- the most popular component for any sensory gym.  The tire swing allows multiple planes of movement, rocking/swaying, spinning, rotary spinning
 Dynamo Biggo Flyer- Dynamo Web Climber– Alternative to traditional climbers. Allows multiple children.
 axis spinner Axis Spinner  Xccent Play.  By using core muscles, kids can propel themselves or can be pushed w/supervision-
 xwave X-wave Rider-

This involves the entire surface do f the body as children experience changes in texture and temperature through their sense of touch.  in the outdoor setting, nature alone provide s children with a  great variety of interesting texture to explore.  building snow sculptures, digging in dirt, rolling in grass, and tending a garden provide excellent opportunities for children to gain an appreciation of the natural world thorough their sense of touch.  Weather conditions also provide natural tactile sensations as children feel the rush of the wind, the warmth of ht sun, or the nip of the cold on their skin.  you can extend and enrich children’s tactile explorations by providing water, sand and other sensory materials.

 ella sand and water table  Sand/Water Play- Ideal with moon sand or sculpting sand, these sand tables include lids to keep unwanted guests out.

The kinesthetic sense detects body position, weight, and movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints.  This sense influences children’s eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. Children develop spatial awareness by using their bodies to experiment withe the relationship of self to the environment.  you can give children opportunities to do this by providing equipment and materials for them to climb on, crawl under, jump over, and hang from. children also like to hid in small spaces, crouch in corners, and squeeze backwards through holes as they experiment with moving their bodies in many different ways.

monarch clear climbing wall Lateral Movement- Climbing Wall– Bubble Wall climber by Playland International.
 climb and discover cave  Lateral Movement- Discovery Climbing Tunnel- gives kids ability to climb over, under. Includes cozy space to get away for some “low-stim”
 tube slide  Linear Movement- sliding experiences are aplenty on playgrounds w/closed tunnels (tube slides) available up to a 14′ height, and open slides usually up to 8′ height.
 axis spinner  Radial Movement- spinning w/supervision.  The Axis Spinner by Xccent Play gives kids with lower core strength the opportunity to spin outside the classroom. 
 geodesic climber  Hanging- joint compression- The Space Pod (geodesic climber) by Playland International gives multiple kids unlimited climbing or hanging experiences.
push pull components Push/Pull- Snugplay Systems,  gives multiple school age kids the ability to use core muscles and joint compression by lifting and building components
 Net climber- mini  Elevation– Climbing webs are available for many heights and age-groups.  Although they require hire level motor pl


Auditory: top
The outdoor setting provides an array of sounds if only we take the time to listen, help children focus on and identify the different sounds around, such as children shouting, birds chirping, leaves crunching, dogs barking, and street sounds around them.  Children’s auditory experience is enhanced as they hear and listen for new sounds in the outdoors.  Children should be encouraged to use their outside voices to sing, shout, and make whatever noises they wish.

Freestanding Music Elements
 Music Stations
Music Chimes and Tubes


Adapted from Tracy Theemes’ “Let’s Go Outside! Designing the Early Childhood Playground”

Don’t forget to reference the Fundraising Resources page on the top right tab, for products and resources to help you with your playground fundraiser. If you are located in the Southeast and would like ideas for creating playground designs for children with autism spectrum disorder, or other special needs, please contact us at