Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs: Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration and Build Social Skills

Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs: Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration and Build Social Skills

by Natasha Etherington


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Winner of the American Horticultural Therapy Association's Book Publication Award 2014

A garden or nature setting presents the perfect opportunity for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and special needs to learn, play and strengthen body and mind. This book empowers teachers and parents with little gardening know-how to get outside and use nature to motivate young learners.

Using a mindfulness approach, Natasha Etherington presents a simple gardening program that offers learning experiences beyond those a special needs student can gain within the classroom. The book outlines the many positive physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional and social benefits of getting out into the garden and provides specially adapted gardening activities for a variety of needs, including those with developmental disabilities and behavioural difficulties, as well as wheelchair users. With a focus on the therapeutic potential of nature, the book shows that gardening can help reduce feelings of anxiety, provide an outlet for physical aggression, build self-esteem through the nurturing of plants and much more.

With this practical program, teachers and parents can easily adopt gardening activities into their schedules and enjoy the benefits of introducing children with special needs to nature and the rhythms of the seasons.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781849052788
Publisher: Kingsley, Jessica Publishers
Publication date: 02/15/2012
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 837,938
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Natasha Etherington is a horticultural therapist and volunteer master gardener. She designs gardens and adapts horticultural activities to enable people with barriers to enjoy the experience of gardening. Her therapeutic garden design at Pitt Meadows Elementary School won the 2010 Accessibility and Leisure and Recreation Award from the City of Maple Ridge. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband Jason and two children. Her website can be visited at

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction 9

What is horticultural therapy? 10

Why is horticultural therapy important? 10

Chapter 2 Mindfulness Approach 12

Introducing the mindfulness approach to young people with special needs 12

How plants can help us relate to children's concerns 14

How mindfulness and flow work 16

Chapter 3 Why Dig? 17

Some examples of making connections 17

Social interaction and communication 19

Some interesting facts about soil 20

Safety tips 21

Chapter 4 Autism Spectrum Disorder 22

Approach 22

Note to parents 23

Note to teachers 23

Before starting 26

Sensory sensitivities 27

Activities 29

Conclusion 49

Chapter 5 Anxiety, Anger and Depression 50

Approach 50

A note on medication 53

Plants as continual adolescents 53

Sexual reproduction 53

A note on communication 54

Anxiety 55

Anger 57

Depression 59

Tips for engaging students 60

Discussion points in the garden 62

Activities 62

Chapter 6 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 73

Approach 73

Benefits of gardening for a child with ADHD 75

Building parental rapport 75

Activities 77

Chapter 7 Developmental Disability 87

Approach 87

Benefits of gardening for children with a developmental disability 87

Activities 88

Chapter 8 Wheelchair Users 96

Approach 96

Common barriers to gardening 97

Benefits of gardening for wheelchair users 98

Hand function and joint protection 100

Designing a nature play and exploration garden 104

Warm up exercises 109

Activities 110

Chapter 9 Poisonous Plants 121

Toxicity 121

Phototoxic plants 123

Chapter 10 Gardens for Children who Suffer from Asthma and Allergies 125

Plants to use 126

Plants to avoid 128

Chapter 11 Conclusion 130

Appendix 1 Learning Assessment Principles and Learning Goals 131

Appendix 2 Risk Assessment 133

Appendix 3 Benefits of Horticultural Therapy and Therapeutic Gardens 136

Appendix 4 Top Ten Sensory Plants, Must Have Herbs and Top Three Oddballs 139

Appendix 5 Themed Containers and Gardens 143

Appendix 6 Relaxation and Visualization Exercise for Deep Breathing 147

References 149

Further Reading 152

Recommended Resources 153

Index 156

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