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‘Landscape x Autism Nature Trail’ - Podcast Episode by The Landscape Nerd

Article by Yixin Han


Many people are affected by autism, whether they are on the autism spectrum themselves or have family members or friends who are autistic. Nowadays, 1 in 44 children have been diagnosed with this neurodevelopmental condition that influences the way they perceive, engage socially with others, and interact with their environment. In this episode of the ‘Landscape Nerd Podcast’, a podcast created to share stories about people and landscapes, the host, Maci Nelson, introduces us to the topic of autism and landscape.


In the episode, Maci speaks with the organizers and a founder of the Autism Nature Trail located in Letchworth state park. Maci expresses her enthusiasm for a favourite topic, noting that it will serve as a beginner's guide to the autistic experience, covering only a fraction of what could be discussed. Also, the episode is of exceptional importance to Maci because she herself is a mother to an autistic child, which gives the episode a personal touch.


Autism Nature Trail

It is often underestimated how isolating the landscape experience can be for autistic minds. Within the autistic community, there is a wish for outdoor spaces where they can feel safe and can foster connections with others. In Maci’s search for autism-friendly spaces, she came across the Autism Nature Trail. This unique trail is geared toward autism families and building confidence in outdoor spaces. It embraces the entire family experience in the outdoors. There are 9 different stations, each with interesting names such as ‘Sunshine Circle, Meadow Run & Climb, Playful Path’, etc.


The Demand for Autism-Inclusive Spaces for Families

The episode provides extensive information and design principles based on nuances that come up from the community you may not find in autism-related literature. It first mentions that families with autistic children often have different interactions with space, contrasting with children who are not affected by the disorder. Many people from the community share the sentiment that there are very few places where they can take their autistic child to enjoy a day of fun outside. These families need spaces where they can feel comfortable out in public exploring and recreating.


Outdoor Space Needs for Autistic Children

The podcast also mentions the outdoor space needs of children with autism, such sensory-friendly environments, safe and enclosed areas, calming spaces for when they need a break from stimulation, inclusive play structures, and flexibility and accessibility. Thus, when designing an outdoor space that is geared towards autism families, these are the key ingredients.


Review of the Trail and Hopes for the Future

The podcast ends with reviews from people that have used the Autism Nature Trail, expressing how they could see their autistic child being comfortable playing with siblings or experiencing a sense of calm in public. As the prevalence of autism continues to rise, so many more people will be connected to autism and there will be a growing need for these spaces. Moreover, as the pandemic has recently concluded and instances of anxiety and other mental health issues are on the rise, there is an increasing demand for inclusive spaces to meet the needs of a broader spectrum of individuals. Thus, the Autism Nature Trail not only meets the needs of people with autism, but can also provide a comforting space in nature for people with Alzheimer's, and other cognitive and neurological challenges. The episode concludes with the hope that these inclusive spaces will receive more attention from organizations and in political discussions in the future.    


Figure 1: ‘Reflection Knoll’ (Autism Nature Trail)


Figure 2: ‘Trail map’ (Autism Nature Trail)

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