How Does Your Garden Grow? Mental Health, Wellness & Skills Development Through Gardening - Autism Awareness
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Gardening helps mental wellness, health, and skills for those with Autsim

How Does Your Garden Grow? Mental Health, Wellness & Skills Development Through Gardening

During this period of at-home learning, starting a garden is a great long-term project that has numerous benefits. Lessons can be taught through online learning and videos. Gardening can also be an activity that unites a group of people through a common purpose. For example, when this period of isolation is over and school resumes this fall, the things that were grown can be brought in to share, and the growing experience shared through journals and progress photos. This can also be a way to keep a class together as an online sharing project through weekly reports.

In August of 2019, we put our 23-year-old son Marc in a horticulture class for the first time. It was through the Cerebral Palsy Alberta.  Little did we know what a life-changing experience that would be. In this current period of COVID-19 isolation, this class moved to an online format and it has been a lifesaver. Growing your own flowers, fruits and vegetables teach a valuable lesson in self-sufficiency and it’s a skill you can use for your lifetime.

What is it about gardening – planting, tending, harvesting, and eating what you grow – that is so therapeutic?

Gardening can Improve Gross and Fine Motor Skills for Those with ASD

Activities in the garden can address both gross and fine motor skills. Here are some examples:

  1. The Wheelbarrow – moving dirt, rocks, or debris counts as heavy work and can build muscles in both arms and legs.
  2. Digging – build endurance and hand dexterity; can also reduce tactile defensiveness.
  3. Pulling Weeds – develops arm and hand strength and postural stability.
  4. Raking –  good for bilateral coordination.
  5. Watering with a watering can – good for bilateral coordination if using two hands strengthens arms.
  6. Planting Seeds – fine motor coordination.
  7. Pinching Plants – the pincer grasp is used to pinch off dead leaves or flowers.
  8. Picking – depending on what you are picking, a different touch and gradation will be needed. Raspberries require more delicacy, apples need more coaxing.
  9. Pulling –  vegetables that grow in the ground will need more strength to get them out like potatoes and carrots.

Starting Seedlings is a Great Indoor Activity

You don’t have to wait for the good weather to start a garden, nor to you need fancy equipment. You can start planting seeds by using eggshells, toilet paper rolls, paper cups, and other common household items. You don’t even have to buy seeds if you don’t want to because you can find seeds from the foods you already eat like apples. Here is a list of 16 foods that will re-grow from kitchen scraps. What a great science lesson to do at home! It also teaches children how to be frugal and re-use what is around them. Looking for free seeds? Here are some ways to get them.

When plants become too big for the planter they are in and it’s time to move them outside, you can transplant them into larger containers such window boxes, planters, hanging baskets, or any other container that holds soil. You can also use cement blocks or bricks to make an area that fits your space for planting outdoors. The clever Farmer’s Almanac has a superb article on constructing a do-it-yourself garden with limited supplies during quarantine (housebound).

Adorable little toddler girl with rainbow

Down the Free E-Book Life at Home During COVID-19

None of us were prepared for the rapid changes that took place with the closing of community classes and programs. This ebook is ideal for helping ease that transition into isolation at home.

Curriculum Ideas Around Gardening

There are many topics you can teach around gardening such as:

  • Parts of a seed
  • Stages of plant growth
  • Plant Categories (fruits, vegetable, herbs, types of flowers)
  • Heirloom fruits and vegetables
  • History (chocolate is a fascinating one)
  • Health benefits of fruits and vegetables

Children can have projects around plant growth such as keeping a journal on the development, taking photos and sharing with others, and researching recipes to eventually use what they are growing. If you are looking for specific gardening lesson plans for various age groups, click here. Here is a list of the 10 Best Gardening Resources for schools.

Benefits of Gardening for those with Autism

For individuals with autism, there are many benefits to gardening.

  • It is a calm, quiet activity in a natural environment.
  • It provides an opportunity to follow instructions.
  • It teaches cooperation and how to work with others.
  • It gives numerous sensory experiences and input (refer back to the motor skills section).
  • It teaches responsibility and leadership. A garden needs tending every day.
  • It is a fully inclusive activity because there is something to do for everyone and a garden is a team effort.
  • It provides an opportunity to socialize.
  • Eating what you grow can encourage individuals to try new foods. Our son now eats salad and soup several times a week. This is a direct result of the horticulture class.
  • You can learn a variety of ways to prepare fruits and vegetables.
  • You can learn how to preserve food through canning, freezing, drying, and dehydration.
  • Flowers can be dried and used for art projects.

There are lots of resources on how to start a garden and what to grow. I like this article for vegetables. Some vegetables are easier than other so try to start with something fairly forgiving.  Enjoy your gardening projects in whatever space you have available – please share your experiences and photos in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!

Resources

Adults with Autism and Gardening

The Autistic Gardener – UK show about gardening presented by Alan Gardner who has Asperger Syndrome.

The Farmer’s Almanac – This site has absolutely everything about growing things, recipes and a section just for kids.

Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational NeedsA book that offers a simple gardening program that empowers teachers and parents with little gardening know-how to get outside and use nature to help children with autism and special needs to play, learn and socialize.

Sensory Gardens for Autism– An article about the benefits of a sensory arts garden.

Therapeutic Gardening Post

Tips on Gardening with Children with ASD

 

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