How to stop an autistic child from climbing

We received an email from a troubled parent about an autistic kid who is constantly climbing on chairs, tables and trees. While that might sound lame, it can get dangerous when the child climbs on top of the house or high up on tall trees. This gets you all worked up and really fearful knowing well that the child could hurt themselves when they go to such extent. 

Climbing is not bad at all. In fact, it is a normal growth stage in toddlers when they want to exercise their developing motor muscles. A study targeting Cerebral palsy and typically developing children showed that climbing helped improve motor abilities through increased synchronization between cortex and muscles.

So when does climbing of a toddler get dangerous? Well, when it involves high heights that would cause harm on their bodies were they to come down. It is also dangerous when the kid is likely to topple over something that could fall on them causing serious injuries like these TVs that were studied in this report. Parents Canada lists falls from climbing on top of windows and house furniture to be among the top 5 causes of toddler deaths in Canada.

safe climbing for autistic kids

The CPSC has recommended that any furniture that might tip-over such as TVs, bookcases, countertops need to be fastened well for safety.

When an autistic kid is climbing on top of all furniture in the house as well as outside, there is a problem. They are a sensory-seeking hint. In fact, they are seeking proprioceptive input.

So how do you stop this dangerous behavior of your kid trying to climb everything? Well, it can be done and we will look at strategies that can help you do this. Before we mention them, it will be right to say that completely trying to stop your kid from climbing will not really work. You have to get them other activities where their excess energy is going to be redirected. So let’s dig into those activities:

  1. Ask them to do resistance activities such as pulling and pushing on things. Other than providing proprioceptive input, this activity is also going to spend most of the bottled-up energy that the child might have.
  2. Get them to spend lots of energy through trampoline therapy

Your kid has lots of energy that needs to be expended. Well, the mini trampoline is a good bet. Studies have shown that the use of trampoline therapy is great in using up excess energy in hyperactive children. But you need to make sure that everything will be safe and that there adult supervision as the child uses the trampoline.

Related: How to stop an autistic child from jumping

The trampoline should be installed with safety nets as well as comfortable foam paddings on the rails so that it will not be injurious if the kid hits themselves on these parts. Dangerous flips and gymnastics are to be avoided both in public and indoor trampolines. You are also to make sure that only one kid climbs on the trampoline at a time to avoid them colliding and hurting each other as they play.

  1. Get some wall climbers with mattress protection on the ground

You can redirect the excess energy that autistic kids have by installing climbers on your indoor walls. Below the walls is a soft mattress-like landing so that in case the child falls, they are safe. Climbing walls provide proprioceptive sensory input to your child. We reviewed some autism climbing furniture here.

  1. Get them to play out in the field

When your kid starts climbing on top of chairs, tables and wardrobes, it is time to get out.
Have them running. Have them kick and play football. Have them riding on bicycles or any other energy-intensive activities that are going to consume much of their energy.

  1. Give them tight hugs

When your kid is climbing, they might do it on surfaces that provide them with pressure and close contact. How about giving them deep and tight hugs to control this behavior? Yes, that might sound lame but you will be amazed when it works. You could also get them compression vests that have been found to cause calming hug effect.

  1. Weight training

While you are not going to ask the kid to go to the gym to lift dumbbells and all that, you could ask them to carry heavy books around as this is going to help in their proprioceptive input.