Gardening can help individuals with autism develop social, behavioral, and sensorimotor skills. Through gardening, individuals with autism learn to communicate with others, cooperate with others, and engage in sensory activities. In many horticultural therapy sessions, individuals with autism are given instructions with multiple tasks while they garden. Claire Johnson from Chicago Botanic Garden shares, “when planting the garden, instructions were to dig a hole, take the plant out of the plastic, place it in the soil, gently push the soil back around the base, and repeat”. Johnson mentions that following instructions with multiple tasks may be challenging for individuals with autism, who may find it difficult to shift their focus from one task to the other. According to Johnson, sensory stimulation through touching and smelling the soil, seeds, and plants is another benefit of gardening. Kim Stoddart from Autism Parenting Magazine shared that her seven-year-old son with autism is “under-stimulated by food so it [gardening] made (and continues to make) the process of eating more interesting to him, and as a result, he now thankfully eats a wide range of fruit and vegetables”.

In vocational gardening programs adults with autism can develop job and life skills by learning to support themselves by growing food. Anne McGuire, Community Outreach and Development Director at Lakey Gap Autism Programs, manages the kitchen gardening program. McGuire told Black Mountain News, “eighty-six percent of people who fall along the autism spectrum in the U.S. are unemployed, according to a 2017 Autism Institute report. That’s not because they lack intelligence but because they often don’t know how to ask for help”. The gardening program, which is part of Lakey Gap Autism Programsvocational training, teaches young men with autism to ask for help if needed and work together to grow food while reinforcing their confidence, social, behavioral, and communication skills.

Gardening has many benefits for individuals with autism and it can be done at home! Here are some helpful tips from Autism Parent Magazine for making your own autism-friendly garden at home…

  • Choose non-toxic plants that are scented, like roses, mint, jasmine, sage, and lavender.
  • Choose colorful flowers with different textures.
  • Welcome wildlife to your garden by adding bird feeders, or making your own small pond to attract frogs and toads.
  • Plant fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can be picked and used to cook or eaten right away.
  • Create a visual timetable of what your child will be doing in the garden. Be sure to include repetitive tasks, like watering the plants and digging the ground, and introduce new activities, such as making your own bird feeder treats, from time to time.
  • If you don’t have a backyardto build a traditional garden, you can make your own wooden box, use hanging baskets, or other containers and place your plants on your balcony, patio, or deck.

Gardening is a great way to bond with your child while strengthening his/her self-esteem, and social, behavioral, and sensorimotor abilities. Gardening is also a fun activity to do with your children this summer!

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