Matthew and Daniel have always loved the outdoors. The sensory nature of outdoor play appeals to two autistic boys. The opportunity to feel the wind, the soil, the mud! Ordinarily, most children would be playing with their friends, or making new temporary bonds with other children in the play area. But not Matthew and Daniel. Even in a crowded play area, its clear that they are in their own little world.
We’re lucky where we live that even in Portlethen, there’s a good few play areas in local parks. We’ll often head to Nicol Park in Porty, where the boys enjoy playing. The Council here put in some great play equipment in the park right outside our back door – the park is quite small, but the equipment is terrific. It means the boys can get there out back, just a minute’s walk to it, without going near a road. They love it down there. They might invent a game to play between themselves, but more often than not, they’ll engage in solitary play on separate piece of equipment.
But its the parks in Aberdeen (http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/community_life_leisure/parks_open_spaces/parks_and_open_spaces.asp) that the boys really love. We’re often in Hazelhead Park in the summer, as its close to where I work. Jane & the boys will pick me up at lunchtime then we’ll picnic in the park, let the boys play in the fantastic play area, then its back to work for me. Westburn Park (another one close to work) and Seaton Park (across the street from my Mum’s) are also regularly visited.
But its Duthie Park that’s their absolute favourite. It is a wonderful park just 5 miles from our front door. Its a huge area, with so much to do. There were two excellent play areas, the superb David Welch Winter Gardens (http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/community_life_leisure/parks_open_spaces/pos_wintergdn.asp) which the boys really enjoy walking through. Its a great way of letting them close to nature. They love seeing the turtles there.
But 2 years ago, the long anticipated revamp of the park got underway. Lottery funding was secured, and it was underway. The park was to be restored to its former glories, with the old boating lake being reopened, and the park getting a massive makeover. What excited the boys most though was the brilliant play area being built at the Riverside Drive side of the park. It looked huge. As the equipment was erected, they got so excited every time we went by. Just before Easter, we were in the park and went to have a look before it opened. The play area was complete, and they were ready to go – almost!
Well, we were there at the weekend en route back from my mum’s. It was mobbed (as it should be) but the boys were off…
The play area is floored either with rubber, or sand, offering a soft landing for any little tumblers. The equipment looks amazing. I’m envious of them that they have all this equipment now, and not when I was a child! But there’s plenty of opportunity for them to climb and balance and slide. Its challenging enough to make them work. Its fantastic exercise, particularly for Daniel. He doesn’t realise he’s getting exercise as he’s having a whale of a time!
Matthew likewise had a great time. Its interesting to see him at play. He’s in the midst of dozens of kids, but is so alone. He makes little effort to interact with them. Its not that he takes a dislike to them, its just that he doesn’t know how to make friends. If another child speaks to him, he might exchange names, but he’s unaware of the social niceities involved, or how to progress a conversation. It invariably ends with him walking away. Its hard to keep an eye on them, as they love to do their own things – at different places in the play area.
Still, despite them living in their own little bubbles, the opportunity for aimless play should be encouraged – despite what some MPs may think. It gives Matthew and Daniel the chance to explore the physical world around them and engage in their deeply personal play. Roll on the summer and more of the same.