Gardening can be a fun activity for the entire family. However, for children on the autism spectrum, it can be especially enlightening. Being able to plant flowers, and other crops will teach them about the process and will give them an activity that they will love.
What Is Autism?
For those that may not be aware, autism is a branch of developmental brain disorders referred to as Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Professionals believe that autism first shows itself in a person’s first three years of life. Autism is a neurological disorder that interferes with normal brain activity. It affects communication and social issues. Loud noises and other distractions can often easily upset these kids. But, you can help children with autism by having them repeat behaviors. Gradual changes also help with coping skills. While they may think, or act, differently, respecting these distinctions goes a long way in helping them grow.
Therapeutic Gardening For Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Kids that have autism benefit from the autonomy of being outside. The ability to get away from any school work, or chores, will give them a sense of independence that they don’t always have. Being able to “play in the dirt” will allow them the reduction of tactile defensiveness that they often display while also giving them the chance to practice life skills, and social interaction. Learning about horticulture will also help to improve their language and communication skills.
You can easily plant these activities into a child’s regular schedule. Pick an afternoon once or twice every week, and stick to it to give them a sense of continuity where they can learn in an outside environment.
Gardening gives children who have autism several benefits. Not only does it help children get away from the work, as described earlier. It gives them a sense of quiet fascination. Kaplan, Kaplan, and Ryan state that it can “come from the setting itself, from the sound patterns, the motion, [and] the intensity of forms and color”. This helps decrease their anxiety.
Another asset revolves around following directions with multiple steps, which is significant because children with autism have trouble switching from one thing to another. Following steps in a certain order helps these kids reach their goals with a greater success rate.
The third thing that helps these children focuses on the senses. Slowly introducing them to what the soil, water, and plants feel like helps them get used to them. Once they are aware of their surroundings, you can introduce new textures and scents. The kids will look at the experience as a new adventure, and become eager for the activity.
Along with the benefits already discussed, kids on the autism spectrum can benefit from horticultural therapy by improving concentration, and memory skills. Being a part of the activity will help them see how things grow. The whole process can include socializing, which will help to improve self-esteem as they start talking about playing in the garden. Being a part of the process regularly will also help them remember how to properly dig in the dirt, plant seeds, and help care for the garden.
Once the children start gardening, they will naturally learn about all the different types of flowers you can plant. You can create a rainbow of colors with all the different options. For example, daisies have delicate white petals, and beautiful yellow centers, which help them stand out.
The summer months are perfect for periwinkles with their white, pink, and purple blooms. You may not have known that they date back to medieval times, and can be used for herbal medicines.
Carnations are also beautiful with a great fragrance and ragged petals. Just make sure you introduce it to the children slowly so they can get used to it. You can start by teaching them about the Mediterranean history, and how they are used to create Hawaiian leis.
Gardening can be fun for the entire family. However, children on the autism spectrum will be introduced to an entire world of senses. Feeling the dirt, seeing the new flowers, and smelling the fragrances they give off will be an exciting experience that these children will remember for years to come.
About the Author
Cassie Brewer is a freelance journalist and writer.