Monkey Bars or Merry-Go-Rounds? Exploring Unique Play Patterns in Autism

Parks and playgrounds – usually synonymous with joyful squeals and boundless energy. But for some children on the autism spectrum, these vibrant worlds can be overwhelming or confusing. Their unique sensory experiences and communication styles often translate into distinct play patterns, adding a fascinating layer to the playground symphony.

Sensory Seekers:

  1. Swing Symphony: Forget slides! These rhythmic enthusiasts crave the gentle sway of swings, the feeling of wind whistling past their ears, and the hypnotic repetition of movement. It’s a sensory lullaby, a calming rhythm that soothes their soul.
  2. Texture Explorers: Sandcastles are passé! These tactile ninjas delight in digging for hidden treasures in the sand, tracing patterns on rough bark, and squishing mud between their fingers. Every texture tells a story, a sensory adventure begging to be explored.
  3. Sound Sleuths: Playground cacophony? Not to these auditory adventurers! They find music in the clatter of swings, the chirping of birds, and the rustling of leaves. Each sound paints a picture, a symphony of nature that fills their world with wonder.

Safe Spaces:

  1. Corners of Calm: Forget chaotic crowds! These solitude seekers find solace in secluded corners, under shady trees, or tucked away in quiet nooks. It’s a sanctuary from sensory overload, a haven where they can recharge and reconnect with themselves.
  2. Tunnel Troopers: Slides are scary! These enclosed enthusiasts find comfort in the cozy darkness of tunnels, crawling through them like playful explorers on a secret mission. It’s a safe haven, a familiar womb that offers a comforting sensory retreat.
  3. Predictable Patterns: Forget merry-go-rounds! These routine champions prefer the predictable path of a circular walk, the calming repetition of bouncing on a trampoline, or the comforting familiarity of a well-worn swing. The order and predictability offer a sense of peace in a world that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Unique Interests:

  1. Water Warriors: Forget dry play! These aquatic adventurers relish the splash of fountains, the coolness of sprinklers, and the playful chase of water bugs. Water is their playground, a refreshing oasis that washes away tension and ignites joy.
  2. Light Dancers: Forget swings! These sun worshippers chase sunbeams across the grass, spin in sunbeams like little whirlwinds, and revel in the warmth of sunlight on their skin. Light becomes their dance partner, painting their world with golden magic.
  3. Leaf Lancers: Forget balls! These naturalists collect fallen leaves, arrange them in intricate patterns, and toss them in the air like confetti. Leaves are their treasures, whispered secrets from the treetops, adding a touch of nature’s beauty to their play.
  4. Spin Doctors: These whirling dervishes crave the dizzying sensation of spinning in circles, whether on roundabouts, spinning chairs, or even just twirling around on the spot. The vestibular input provides a sense of balance, focus, and sometimes even euphoria.
  5. Balance Beam Bandits: Forget monkey bars! These proprioceptive explorers find endless joy in navigating narrow balance beams, testing their coordination and body awareness. The challenge of staying upright offers a sense of control and mastery over their movements.
  6. Climbing Connoisseurs: Stairways are boring! These vertical adventurers prefer to scale climbing structures, trees, or even fences, seeking the thrill of reaching new heights and testing their physical strength. Climbing provides an outlet for energy and a sense of accomplishment.

Safe Spaces (Continued):

  1. Nature’s Nurturers: Forget crowded playgrounds! These nature enthusiasts find peace in quiet gardens, observing insects, collecting leaves and pebbles, or simply listening to the sounds of nature. The natural world provides a calming sensory experience and a sense of connection to something larger than themselves.
  2. Observers on the Edge: These social spectators prefer to watch others play from a safe distance, often finding joy in observing interactions and patterns of movement. Participating in group play can be overwhelming, but observing from the sidelines allows them to engage in their own way.

Unique Interests (Continued):

  1. Puzzle Masters: Forget traditional toys! These pattern-seeking sleuths often gravitate towards puzzles, sorting games, or activities that involve arranging objects in specific orders. The predictability and logic of these tasks provide a sense of satisfaction and mastery.
  2. Line Leaders: Forget unstructured play! These order enthusiasts find comfort in creating lines of toys, arranging objects in perfect rows, or drawing intricate patterns in the sand. The act of organizing their surroundings helps them feel a sense of control and predictability.
  3. Storytellers in Motion: Forget traditional games! These creative spirits often invent elaborate stories and scenarios, acting them out with toys, playground equipment, or even just their imaginations. The world becomes their stage, where they can explore different roles and express their unique perspectives.
  4. Gravity Gurus: These thrill-seeking daredevils love the feeling of freefall, whether jumping off swings, bouncing on trampolines, or even just rolling down hills. The intense sensory input provides a rush of adrenaline and a sense of empowerment.
  5. Texture Tantalisers: Forget slides! These tactile explorers prefer to create art with sand, mud, or other sensory materials. They might build intricate sandcastles, sculpt imaginative figures, or simply enjoy the feel of different textures on their hands.
  6. Soundscape Sculptors: These musical masterminds find joy in creating unique soundscapes, whether by banging on drums, clanging cymbals, or simply humming their own melodies. The playground becomes their orchestra, where they can experiment with sounds and rhythms.

Safe Spaces (Continued):

  1. Solitary Sojourners: These independent explorers prefer to play alone, engaging in activities that allow them to focus on their own interests and create their own worlds. Parallel play or solitary activities provide a sense of autonomy and control.
  2. Routine Rulers: Forget spontaneity! These schedule enthusiasts thrive on predictability and routine, often preferring to visit the same park, play on the same equipment, and follow a set sequence of activities. Familiarity brings a sense of comfort and security.


Unique Interests (Continued):

  1. Number Ninjas: Forget storytime! These mathematical minds love to count everything in sight, from the number of steps on a staircase to the patterns on a slide. Numbers provide a sense of order and predictability, and counting can be a calming and engaging activity.
  2. Transportation Trackers: Forget dolls! These vehicle enthusiasts are fascinated by all things that move, from trains and trucks to airplanes and helicopters. They might spend hours observing traffic, watching planes fly overhead, or playing with toy vehicles.
  3. Animal Admirers: Forget playground buddies! These nature lovers prefer the company of animals, often seeking out opportunities to watch birds, squirrels, or other creatures in their natural habitats. Animals provide a sense of connection to nature and offer unconditional acceptance.


  • These are just a few glimpses into the unique play preferences of individuals on the autism spectrum. Every child is different, and their park adventures will be as diverse and fascinating as their individual personalities. By understanding and appreciating these differences, we can create inclusive play spaces where all children, regardless of their neurodiversity, can feel welcome, safe, and free to explore the joy of playtime

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