Horticulture Therapy for People on the Autism Spectrum

horticulture therapy

For people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), developmental delays and other impairments can limit the number of pleasurable activities they can experience. But much research has concluded that gardening provides those with ASD numerous cognitive and physical benefits, and can reduce many of the negative behaviors common to people on the autism spectrum. Engaging with nature, the exposure to the outdoors combined with mild exercise, and the repetitive tasks that gardening requires, makes horticulture therapy an excellent intervention for people with autism.

Cognitive benefits of gardening

For someone with autism, tending to a garden can reduce anxiety, improve concentration, lessen aggression, and increase confidence and self esteem. Gardening can help people on the spectrum develop a sense of purpose while learning the responsibility of taking care of living things. Gardening also provides numerous learning experiences, as well as a sense of autonomy. Seeing the results of their work gives them great joy and the feeling of achievement. People with ASD typically crave structure, and gardening’s repetitive nature provides that. Gardening is also extremely calming because there is limited stimuli. And because those on the spectrum often have great difficulty shifting their attention from one task to another, or a change in their routine, gardening helps their ability to follow multi-step directions. Working in a garden with other people also helps them learn about cooperation, strengthens their social skills, and enhances communication and language skills, which are common and often severe deficits for people with autism.

Horticulture therapy also helps people with autism with:

  • problem solving
  • sequential processing
  • focus
  • motivation
  • providing new skill sets

Physical benefits of gardening

A very common issue for people with ASD is sensory exposure. They often suffer from the inability to cope with loud noises, excessive stimuli, and tactile sensitivities.

Gardening is considered a quiet and relaxing activity, therefore it provides the calming effects very similar to those who experience successful music therapy. The constant sensation of hands in soil, water and plant materials decreases their tactile defensiveness.

Gardening also increase stamina, endurance and energy, and the repetitive tasks strengthen both fine and gross motor skills.

Gardening is the perfect opportunity for people on the autism spectrum, both children and adults, to combat the negative behaviors that are commonly associated with this neurological disorder.

Horticulture therapy is a proven method of promoting more positive behaviors, as well as providing an enjoyable and motivating experience. Gardening has been prescribed by doctors for many years as successful therapy for an array of people, including war veterans, cancer patients, victims of trauma and abuse, people suffering from mental illness, patients recovering from serious illness, and/or people with dementia.

photo credit:  istockphoto

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