QUESTION: Running and Pacing in Large Spaces?


My son does a lot of running and pacing when he is open spaces like a gym or outside. Sometimes I get him to play or do activities, but it is very difficult. What are some strategies, activities, or therapy methods I can try to help my son not be so overwhelmed or over stimulated with open spaces?

Secondly, when trying to do activities like reading, drawing, and identifying colors, my son’s attention span is extremely short. However, he loves electronic games and loves my iPad. When he has an electronic device he will literally sit down for 15–20 minutes at a time, if I let him, and play with them with 100% focus. Is there a reason or an explanation for this other than that’s just what he is interested in?


Your son’s behaviors are typical and both of these issues are tied to processing visual information. Most kids on the autism spectrum gravitate toward unidimensional visual input from TVs, iPads, and computers because that is a very simple form of visual input to process. That makes sense to their brain and is visually pleasing. However, multidimensional visual input, such as in a gym or in a large open space, is much more difficult to make sense of and running and pacing is an attempt to figure out the boundaries of such an environment. The running and pacing definitely can also provide calming vestibular and proprioceptive input to self-soothe.

Here are some things that may help:

* Upon entering the gym or an open space, walk the perimeter with him once. Allow him to run his hand along the wall or talk about where the playground ends.
* Encourage him to wear a baseball hat in large spaces—especially outside. This will limit the visual field so it will be less overwhelming.
* Some kids do better with sunglasses on. Also, some kids do really well with nonprescription lenses that have antiglare coating on them. Both of these options can serve to reduce the visual demands.
* Try having him wear compression garments under his clothing when going to a playground or gym (or something like Under Armor instead of regular clothing). Compression garments improve the sense of self which can help him be less overwhelmed by the large environment and where he fits into it.

Best Wishes,