Photo by Ben Wilkins @btwilkins
Around one in 59 children in the U.S. has autism, reports The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism is a complex disorder that can impact a child’s social skills, relationships, self-regulation and communication skills, and as such, parents and educators are constantly searching for ways to improve these skills in a natural fashion. Outdoor experiences – such as fishing – have been shown to have various benefits for children with ASD. As stated in a study by H Barakat et al., being in the great outdoors is vital for these children, since there are “cognitive, mental health, physical health, social and emotional benefits of connecting with nature.” Avid fishermen and women will agree that one of the best ways of simply ‘being’ in the majesty of nature is by taking a boat out into the water.
Fishing And Social Development
Fishing often involves teamwork, with everyone on the boat (even if they are just two people) having their own roles and commitment to the task at hand. Research by Henniger et al. has shown that outdoor activities boost social development, even though people take part in parallel activities. Being out in the water for many hours also allows children to enjoy solitude, since fishing often involves two people or small groups that enable a child to enjoy peace and quiet while taking in the sights and sounds of nature.
Calming Sensitive Children
Children with autism can be highly sensitive to changes and unpredictable activities. Those who love fishing therefore benefit from the repetitive, predictable nature of the activity. Natural objects in the landscape make good focal points for calming down, and the monochromatic nature of the landscape while fishing can also help children avoid visual over-stimulation. You can also help lower their tension by explaining a few of the activities you will be carrying out on the boat and by teaching them a few tasks beforehand – such as how to attach the bait safely to the hook.
Children who are out on a boat may prefer to play with their favorite toy instead of actually cast a reel. The calming sound of water, the gentle rock of the boat, and the neutral color scheme of the surrounding views make for an ideal playground for children who like to get away from hustle, bustle and noise. When packing your equipment, include a few toys for your little one. Books with different textures and Lego blocks are just a few toys that parents of children with autism report their children love. Make sure toys are safe and free of small pieces that could be a choking hazard. Toys should also be shatter-proof and be devoid of sharp points or edges, so your child can freely play and you can enjoy a fishing break while feeling totally secure.
Honing Key Skills
The key to making the most of your day out with your child is to gently suggest specific tasks while permitting your child to join you in your favorite activity gradually, and in line with their natural interest. Once your child is interested in helping with activities like baiting, casting and pulling, then they will start benefiting from the skill-specific nature of fishing. Just one skill they will hone in the process is improving their motor skills. Fishing involves much more than just sitting on the boat; it often involves gross motor skills (which involve large movements like walking, jumping and lifting) and fine motor skills (such as hooking the bait). Because in fishing these tasks are purpose-driven, they can seem like less of a chore for your child. Fishing also improves the way a child thinks; it can challenge them to solve problems, concentrate and organize their materials, equipment and activities.
When your child catches their first fish, it can be a memorable experience that motivates them to continue with this activity. Fishing brings children out into the great outdoors, which in itself is a wonderful calming space for children with autism. It also calls them to exercise many abilities – including planning and focus. The key to making the most of your day is to take situations as they come, bringing a few toys along in case your child prefers to simply play in the midst of the sparkling waters.