Gardening is often considered to have a powerful therapeutic effect. Being out in the fresh air, watching something you planted grow and blossom, even being able to feel involved in producing your food, are all valuable benefits of gardening. Care homes in Newham should also think about how this activity may specifically help autistic service users by providing a calming sensory experience.
Sensory gardens in care homes in Newham
A sensory garden provides a host of different colours, sounds (birdsong, rustling leaves), aromas and textures for both gardeners and visitors to enjoy. This can make it a pleasing experience for someone with autism who has sensory issues. Gardens can also be relatively enclosed, making them a safe and secure shelter from the world outside.
Engaging with food
People with autism can typically be considered picky eaters, whether they experience sensory distress from common foods or have gastrointestinal issues. Being able to grow fruit and vegetables yourself is a proven way to become more engaged with food, making individuals more willing to try these healthier ingredients and possibly even encouraging them to cook for themselves.
Repetition and routine
Many of the activities involved in gardening, such as digging, can be quite repetitive. Gardening also requires routine: a regular pattern of planting, watering, and weeding to name just some examples. For people with autism to whom repetition and routine are highly soothing, and who may struggle in more chaotic environments, gardening can be a reassuring activity.
The ability of nature to reduce anxiety is well documented. Sunlight, fresh air, birdsong all provide relief from the stresses of regular life, especially if you usually live in a loud and busy environment. People with autism are more likely to experience anxiety than neurotypical people, but gardening can provide equal or even more relief.
Working in the garden can be a solitary or team pursuit. As the person with autism feels relaxed and engaged with their surroundings, they may be able to communicate more easily with other service users or staff in the garden. Shared experiences are a valuable way to improve social skills, often an area of particular difficulty for people with autism.
Balance, coordination, and control of even simple movements can be difficult for some people with autism, but gardening is a way to practice and improve fine motor skills in an engaging and less stressful way. Digging, pulling weeds, pushing a wheelbarrow; these are all ways to work on motor skills.
There are many positive effects: physical, emotional, and social that are associated with gardening. Many of these advantages may be especially beneficial to people with autism, who may have greater than usual levels of anxiety and require safe ways to engage their senses and practice motor and social skills. That is why care homes in Newham should consider introducing their service users with autism to gardening.