The healing properties of gardening have long been discussed for improving mental well-being. Connecting with nature in this way can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Tending to plant life can also be helpful to those with autism spectrum disorder. Horticultural therapist and author Natasha Everington assists parents, teachers, and school counselors in applying these techniques to improve child development.
Etherington’s book entitled Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs – Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration, and Build Social Skills, was released in 2013 and received much acclaim. According to the Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”
The author claims that working outdoors in the dirt can offer psychological benefits that cannot be found in a traditional classroom environment. Children build social and cooperation skills while working with others to complete these activities. You may also see improvement in their speech development as they communicate with others working on the task.
Benefits of horticultural therapy are also physical. Digging builds flexibility, endurance and motor skill development. It can also result in lower blood pressure and reduce muscular tension.
It can also be a bonding activity for parents and children. Parents sometimes see a different side of their child when working on a garden together, and this can lead to more positive behavior. These therapies can also be useful to patients affected by Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Gardening requires focusing energy on a larger goal and following instructions.
Ideally, there would be an available patch of land to work with. This is not always possible, so there are other options for those who do not have yard access. These include using a wooden box, constructing a box out of brick or cement block, or using window boxes and planters. If possible, place potted plants on a balcony or rooftop, or build a greenhouse out of plastic materials.
Programs teaching gardening skills can be hard to come by. Etherington suggests that if you are interested in exploring the benefits of horticulture therapy and do not have access to an existing program, you can always create one. The book contains plenty of information on how to start your own horticulture therapy program.