Gardening therapy for children with autism

We all know it – nature relaxes us, it boosts our spirit and we finally feel energized, physically and mentally. In time, nature expanded its curative properties into medical programs. For years, children with autism have been integrated in horticultural therapy programs after experts have found that engaging with nature helps combat anxiety, promote sensory integration and build social skills. Children come into the garden and explore the space on their own terms, the green nature envelops them like a blanket and keeps them comfortable, as suggestively explained one of the organizers of such gardening therapy programs.

In Romania, such programs which have become regular in the West, have started becoming popular. For example, the Center for Autism “Black Sea” in the city of Constanta started a project suggestively called “therapeutic garden” in which every participant is given the possibility to become responsible by caring for plants and the environment. Organizers say that the “therapeutic garden” has many benefits for children with autism, such as reduced psycho-motor agitation and improving motility.

This gardening therapy project is structured in daily sessions each of 15 minutes, each under the direction of psychologists. Over these sessions, children are encouraged to accomplish many tasks, such as arranging land in pots and flower stands, weeding or watering plants. The garden is divided into several sectors: vegetables, flowers and herbs, each child being asked to care for a particular type of plant.

No wonder that parents’ feedback was positive. Extremely excited about the program, they emphasized that visible improvements were observed in their children’s behavior, such as a reduced state of psycho-motor agitation, while older children found in gardening a favorite choice among leisure activities.

After each such gardening therapy program, the level of interaction between children with autism has increased dramatically, tending to pay more attention to peer students, than the adults who supervised them. Although initially reluctant to even touch the fruit or vegetables, the children ended with a growing desire to play with dirt, either by touching it or using tools.

In some cases, children are encouraged to play with the fruits or vegetables they cared for during gardening therapy sessions. To familiarize themselves with the concept of balanced diet, children are encouraged to simulate cooking activities using the same fruits and vegetables. At the end of these programs, most children made significant progress towards participation in developmentally appropriate activities of daily life.


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