By Jackie Edwards
A garden is generally extremely cathartic and relaxing for children, making it the perfect addition to any school or home catering to children on the spectrum. While it has been found that children on the spectrum gravitate towards games that stimulate their senses, the same benefits can be reaped by spending time in a garden that is specifically created with stimulating the various senses in mind.
Benefits of creating your own sensory garden
A sensory garden can effectually focus on a single sense or incorporate all five, depending on your child’s needs. Early intervention is vital for all children on the spectrum and a sensory garden allows them to explore their senses in a safe environment that won’t leave them feeling overwhelmed. Children who are extremely reactive to stimuli can benefit from the relaxing nature of the garden while those who are under-reactive to stimuli will enjoy the added stimulation the garden has to offer.
Appeal to the Senses
The stimulation from a sensory garden is obtained from the plants and other materials used to create it that engage the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. There are a number of ways through which you can stimulate each of these senses, both individually, and as a whole. Depending on the needs of your child, you can decide which of the following to incorporate into your garden and which to omit.
A water feature can add beautiful, tranquil sound to your garden while a gravel path-ways makes a delightful, crunching sound when your child walks on it. When the wind blows through the stems and leaves of certain plants such as bamboo and Pampas grass, it makes a lovely, calming sound that has a very relaxing effect on an over-active mind. Inviting wildlife such as bees, frogs, and birds into your garden will add to the auditory experience of your garden. You might want to consider putting up a birdbath or investing in a beehive to make your garden even more attractive to the tiniest life forms.
Touch and Smell
It is easy to incorporate elements of touch into your garden with various textures such as smooth pebbles, rough stones, soft moss and rigid leaves. All the plants in your garden will add their own unique smell that will tantalize the senses. Try to plant a few non-toxic, pleasant-smelling plants such as jasmine, roses, mint, honeysuckle, lavender, and sage which not only smell good but attract butterflies and birds to your garden as well.
Sight and Taste
When designing your garden make an effort to be creative with colors to encourage visual stimulation. Try not to have too many bright colors in a small space as it can cause a sensory overload. Instead aim to divide your garden into sections with neutral-colored bricks, gravel, and stones, adding a splash or two of color to each segment. Taste is a tricky sense to appeal to and one that may require some research to be done. The safest way to go about including elements of taste is to only plant delicious berries and other fast-growing fruits and vegetable you are sure are edible.
*Jackie Edwards is a writer and a full-time mom to two girls, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Jackie is also diagnosed with Aspergers. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after.
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