The natural environment; supporting autistic children and their mental health.

At Bridge the Gap we are passionate about utilising nature and the outdoors to support mental health. Play and being outside are natural ways that children manage stress, anxiety, and other big emotions; in 2021 the number of children playing outside on a daily basis has reduced significantly. Studies worldwide demonstrate a correlation between participation in outdoor activities and significant improvements in mental, psychological, and emotional wellbeing in children.

What this research tells us is that by bringing nature to schools we can certainly help to reduce the rates of children struggling with stress and anxiety in the school system, it could also benefit the teachers too. It is clear that the benefits of providing opportunities to be outdoors with nature will improve learning for all students, but for those children with additional needs that are potentially traumatised by the school environment, then more time outdoors throughout the day could help to reduce the harmful levels of toxic stress they can experience. On its own it’s not enough, but it’s certainly a good area that all schools could start with.


For those inner-city schools with little to no green space the school community and local businesses can work together to provide solutions, and the children themselves can get creative behind the project!


There’s now some earthing science that helps to make more sense as to why grounding in nature can help us to regulate and feel more at peace with the world, but when you consider our beginnings and where we are now as a society, we can see the disconnect.


Below, guest blogger Hannah Reeves explains how being outdoors in nature has helped her to support her son’s mental health and well-being.


"Nature and the outdoors are so important for everyone's mental health. My son has autism, sensory processing disorder, and severe anxiety and depression, but having a huge outdoor space is key to his development and sensory needs. A child with sensory processing disorder can struggle to leave their bedroom because every sensation in their body is heightened to the point of physical pain. A loud noise to them can feel like "needles in my ears", a hand on their shoulder can feel like "a 200-degree burn", the smell of garlic bread cooking can make them physically sick. So, by offering a variety of outdoor natural senses you can help a child become more accepting of their surroundings and also provide a positive energy towards their mental health. My son will often walk through our sensory garden and look at the different coloured leaves and flowers, and if he's able to, touch the petals to take onboard the texture and feel.


He will also watch the different birds which land on the bird feeder, noticing the colours, the size, what they like to eat etc. Also, when he feels a panic attack coming along, I help him by doing deep breathing exercises with him outside which not only physically help his anxiety but also provide a distraction, inner healing for the mind helping him to slow the negative thoughts down to a reasonable and safe level, enabling us to process the thoughts together and work through them"


Hannah Reeves

Mum of Charlie and Harry


We have free resources that can support children to practice grounding proactively on our website.

https://bit.ly/freestrategydownload


We have a digital download to educate children around grounding, it's also full of ideas for children to explore. Download it for just £2.50 here:

https://bit.ly/groundingbooklet