Neurodiversity and Mobility: How Backpacking Can Make a Difference 

Written By: Olivia Nero, Neurodiversity Ally and Menachem Rephun, Communications Manager, Creative Spirit

Neurodiversity and Mobility: How Backpacking Can Make a Difference 

Neurodiversity and Mobility is wonderful for a neurodivergent brain. It can be very therapeutic for just about anyone. Not only that, it is also super healthy to stay active. Being active is good for both mental and physical health. 

An example of this is Mackenzie Fresquez, who has both autism and ADHD. Mackenzie loves backpacking and has hiked almost 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in California. Many people have a perspective of someone with autism of having very high support needs, because that is the way that people who have autism are often depicted in the media. However, many times that is not the case. In her article “Backpacking with a Neurodivergent Brain”, Mackenzie says, “I want to make one thing very clear. Autism is a neurotype, not a disease.” Her brain is wired differently and she would not want it to be any other way.

Intense fixations and specialized interests are a characteristic that can come with having autism. For Mackenzie, she is passionate about backpacking. Backpacking with a neurodivergent brain affects every aspect of backpacking in a different way. For example, Mackenzie experiences sensory issues. To combat this, she always brings sunglasses for her light sensitivity and makes sure to wear comfortable clothing. She sometimes struggles to navigate certain social situations, but on the trail, she feels that they happen organically. Mackenzie loves being able to have a daily routine while backpacking. Overall, this makes it a very enjoyable experience for her through Neurodiversity and Mobility. 

Hiking or backpacking can also be a great activity for children with autism. The wilderness is something that many kids naturally connect with. There can be plenty of opportunities to stop along the trail for children with autism to have a more detailed observation of the environment around them. This is a wonderful opportunity to help get kids off of screens. Research has shown that children with autism are more likely to be at an unhealthy weight, but hiking is a great form of exercise and can help them maintain a healthy weight. Crossing streams and other obstacles along a trail can also help children with autism build better motor skills. Facing unique challenges of hiking can also help children with autism have better confidence and promote the sense of wonder. 

Mackenzie also believes backpacking can be extremely beneficial for people with ADHD. While backpacking, there are constantly new things to see. Backpacking involves a great deal of walking which allows for dopamine to be released. Research has shown that exercise also works well to help mitigate some of the symptoms of ADHD. While backpacking, Mackenzie listens to music or podcasts to help regulate some of the racing thoughts or random quotes that may get stuck in her head. 

Although people with neurodivergent brains may have to make a few adjustments to ensure their comfort, backpacking is a great way to get moving and experience many health benefits from being mobile. Mackenzie is just one example of how people with neurodiversity can accomplish many great things, such as hiking over 800 miles. Mackenzie’s next goal is to hike the Colorado Trail. She also has a Backpacker Radio episode for those interested in hearing more about her experiences.  


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