Accessible Gardening

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Five Gardening Activities For People With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Engaging in garden activities can be a wonderful and beneficial experience for those with ASD. Here are some good ideas.
Gardening Activities for Autistic Kids and Individuals

When planning garden activities for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s essential to consider each person’s sensory sensitivities, communication preferences, as well individual interests. In this article, I will you five fun activities that can be adapted to different individuals to enjoy a positive and enriching garden experience. 

Each person is unique, but gardening is an activity that can be shared and enjoyed together. Still, flexibility, patience, and understanding are crucial to creating an inclusive and enjoyable gardening experience for everyone in the garden. Below, you will find some activities that are specially tailored to people on the autistic spectrum.

The Benefits of Gardening With Autism

Gardening provides people with an excellent opportunity to interact with others and work as a team, calm down after an overwhelming day, or develop fine motor skills. In short, gardening can help ASD children and adults build social skills and fight off anxieties in a calm and safe environment. For example, here are some of the benefits of gardening for people with autism spectrum disorder:

  • Gross motor skills: Raking, using wheelbarrows, and digging can also build up muscles and help with balance.
  • Fine motor skills: Weeding, planting seeds, sifting soil, and picking crops all use smaller muscles and help with coordinated skills.
  • Communication: Gardening can be a quiet activity but also provides a chance to communicate about tools and problems.
  • Healthier eating: Children with autism tend to eat selectively. Gardening and growing vegetables, in particular, can help them become more used to the idea of eating these foods.
  • Sensory experience: Gardening is usually seen as a form of therapy; in fact, one that engages the main senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound. 

Five Activities for Hardeners With ASD

Here are five activities that can be tailored to people with autistic spectrum disorder.

1. Sensory Garden Exploration

Create a sensory garden space that focuses on stimulating the senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound. Include a variety of plants with different textures, fragrances, and colors. Encourage participants to explore the garden using their senses, feeling the leaves, smelling the flowers, tasting herbs (if safe), and listening to the rustling of the leaves. This sensory-rich environment can be both calming and enjoyable.

2. Planting Seeds or Seedlings

Engage people with autism in the process of planting seeds or seedlings. Use larger, easy-to-handle seeds or provide seedlings ready for planting. Allow them to experience the satisfaction of watching their plants grow over time. This activity can teach patience and responsibility and give a sense of accomplishment as they care for their plants!

For example, here are some seeds and seedlings that could work well for those with ASD:

  • Sunflowers (Helianthus): Sunflowers are large and visually striking. Planting sunflower seeds allows people of all ages to witness the impressive growth of these tall flowers. Plus, they are also tactile-friendly, with their smooth seeds and sturdy stems, something that makes them great for sensory exploration.

  • Lavender (Lavandula): Lavender is known for its calming fragrance, making it an ideal plant for sensory-oriented gardening with individuals with ASD. The gentle aroma of lavender can also help promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. So, encourage participants to touch the soft, fragrant leaves, providing a soothing sensory experience!

  • Herbs (e.g., Mint, Basil, Rosemary): Herbs are versatile plants with unique textures and scents. Mint, basil, and rosemary, for example, have distinctive fragrances and can be tasted, adding to the sensory experience. 

  • Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum): Nasturtiums are vibrant and easy-to-grow flowers that offer visual appeal and are perfect for hands-on gardening. The large seeds are also easy to handle, making them suitable for individuals with fine motor challenges. 

  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum): Lastly, snapdragons are engaging plants that are fun to grow and interact with. Their name comes from their unique flowers that can be gently squeezed to resemble a dragon’s mouth. This playful feature can be enjoyable for individuals who appreciate tactile experiences.

3. Butterfly or Insect Watching

Set up a designated area for butterfly or insect watching. Plant flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators and provide a comfortable spot for observing these creatures up close. Autistic individuals often have specific interests, and some may have a fascination with insects. This activity encourages mindfulness and observation while nurturing their curiosity about nature.

4. Garden Art and Crafts

Combine gardening with artistic expression by involving kids and adults with autism spectrum disorder in garden-themed art and crafts. They can create nature-inspired paintings, make leaf rubbings, decorate plant pots, or design garden markers. This activity allows them to connect with nature creatively and enhances their fine motor skills and self-expression.

Here are some more specific ideas you can try:

  • Nature Collage: Collect leaves, flowers, and other natural materials from the garden and use them to create a beautiful nature collage. Arrange the items on a piece of paper or canvas and glue them down to make a unique artwork.

  • Seed Packet Art: Decorate and personalize seed packets using markers, colored pencils, or stickers. Fill the packets with seeds harvested from the garden, and they can be gifted or stored for future planting.

  • Garden Rock Painting: Collect smooth rocks from the garden and paint them with vibrant colors and patterns. These painted rocks can be used as garden markers or displayed as decorative elements in the garden.

  • Flower Pressing: Pick colorful flowers from the garden and press them between heavy books or flower presses. Once dried, use the pressed flowers to create beautiful and delicate pressed flower art or bookmarks.

  • Herb Sachets: Harvest fresh herbs from the garden and create scented herb sachets. Fill small fabric bags with dried herbs and tie them with a ribbon. These sachets can be placed in drawers or around the house to add a pleasant fragrance.

Hand-painted Garden Pots
Hand-painting garden pots can be a fun and engaging activity out in the garden!

5. Gardening Storytime

Host a gardening-themed storytime session in the garden. Choose books that revolve around gardening, nature, or outdoor adventures. Reading together amidst the natural setting can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. For added engagement, encourage participants to act out parts of the story or role-play as characters in the garden.

Here are five real books about gardening that are suitable for children with ASD:

  • The Curious Garden” by Peter Brown: This delightful picture book tells the story of Liam, a young boy living in a drab city where plants barely survive. One day, Liam discovers a small patch of plants struggling to grow and decides to take care of them. With his determination and care, the garden begins to thrive, transforming the entire city. The story emphasizes the transformative power of nature and the joy of tending a garden.

  • Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt” by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal: In this beautifully illustrated book, readers explore both the beauty above the garden’s surface and the hidden wonders beneath the soil. The story takes readers on a journey through the changing seasons, exploring the interconnectedness of plants, animals, and the natural world. It introduces children to the magic of gardening and the intricate web of life.

  • Planting a Rainbow” by Lois Ehlert: This colorful book follows a child and their mother as they plant a rainbow of flowers in their garden. The book introduces young readers to different types of flowers, colors, and the concept of planting seeds and watching them grow. With its vibrant illustrations and simple text, this book engages young readers and encourages their curiosity about gardening.

  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver” by Susan Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell: Based on the life of renowned botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, this book highlights his love for plants and gardening. The story portrays Dr. Carver’s dedication to nature, his discoveries, and his passion for helping others through his work. It encourages children to explore the wonders of plants and the possibilities of the natural world.

  • Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney: In this heartwarming tale, Miss Rumphius, also known as the Lupine Lady, sets out to make the world more beautiful by planting lupine flowers everywhere she goes. Through her determination and love for nature, she inspires others to care for the environment and spread beauty. The story’s messages of environmental stewardship and the joy of gardening resonate with young readers.