Benefits of Gardening for Children with Autism and Special Ed Needs
Benefits of Gardening for Children with Autism and Special Educational Needs

I reviewed for our Special Needs Book Review a wonderful book about the benefits of gardening for children with special needs. To be truthful, I did not know there was such a thing as Horticultural Therapy (HT).  What is horticultural therapy? Natasha Etherington has all you need to know in her book, Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs – Engaging with Nature to Combat Anxiety, Promote Sensory Integration and Build Social Skills

Congratulations to Natasha Etherington as her book was voted into top 20 books USA 2013 for parents with children with special educational needs.

Natasha, a horticultural therapist, helps  people of various ages and abilities to experience garden related activities. The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association says, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Benefits of Gardening for Children

The author tells us, “Horticultural Therapy (HT) is the engagement of a person in gardening related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals.”  The author says she was inspired to write this book for teachers, school counsellors, support assistants, and parents regardless of their horticultural know-how.  She feels that a horticultural therapy programme offers benefits not available in an indoor classroom. The benefits of gardening for children are numerous.  Children with special needs benefit from gardening but so do their peers, caregivers and educators.

If HT is not available in your schools or there is no therapist who specialized in that field in your area, I recommend parents buy Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs and do what they can at their home.  Naturally the ideal thing is to have a patch of land to make a garden but your child does not have to miss out on the benefits of garden related activities if you do not have the space for a “traditional garden”.  You could substitute with any of the following and enjoy some of the therapeutic benefits of gardening for children:Benefits of Gardening for Children with Autism and Students Special Educational Needs

  • Make a small wooden box, like a sand box.
  • Use cement blocks or bricks to make an area that fits your space for planting.
  • Use window boxes, planters, hanging baskets, or any other container that holds soil.
  • planters hook - Benefits of Gardening for Children with Autism and Students Special Educational Needs   Construct a small greenhouse with greenhouse plastic or recycled windows.
  • Choose plants that grow up, use stakes in your planter, and plant on your deck or balcony.

Gardening is motivational for the child and is great for the mental health of all involved. An added bonus for the adults is that gardening side by side with a child will show you a different side of his personality and increase positive behaviors. For parents, they can build lasting memories from sharing this gardening experience with their child. I have fond memories of planting a garden with my grandmother, my mother, my husband,  my children, and now my grandchildren.

Natasha has a whole chapter on the benefits of digging. This will show you the wide scope of horticultural therapy because do not think it is only about placing seeds in the soil and weeding. Digging provides numerous learning experiences and benefits the whole child. The following are some of the benefits of digging:

  • Gives children the time to play and explore in the soil incorporating play and gross motor skills.
  • Reduces muscle tension and lowers blood pressure.
  • Builds endurance and hand dexterity.citrouille
  • Provides opportunity to develop speech to share discoveries while playing in thecitrouille citrouillesoil.
  • Gives a chance for the child to learn how to coorperate with buddies or the caregiver.
  • Gives practice is following instructions and safety regulations.
  • Helps lessen negative feelings, anxieties, aggressive tendencies, etc.
  • Helps to reduce tactile defensiveness.

Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs  shows the benefits of gardening in relation to a special need or condition. Natasha has a chapter for each of the following:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Anxiety, Anger and Depression
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Developmental Disability
  • Wheelchair Users

Each of the above chapters has four or five complete lesson plans with easy-to-follow sections: Aim, Tools, The Activity written in bulleted format and numbered sequences.

Gardening is such a positive activity, except when the wild deer come and eat our growing plants! Each visit to the garden is a new experience. The new plants are just popping from the soil, YEH! The peas have made their first flowers, WOW! The peas are forming pods, GREAT! We can have a vegetable stir fry with our peas, YUMMY! It is mid-winter, bright, green peas roll on our plates, treasures frozen from our summer crop, AMAZING!

Happy gardening everyone!  Each Spring my husband and I make a vegetable garden. We plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in our greenhouse and care for six high bush blueberry plants. Then we will help our grown son and daughter with their gardens with the help of five granddaughters. They also have built small greenhouses for the plants that need more warmth than our coastal gardens receive. I hope with this gardening we will learn, play and strengthen body and mind, like Natasha’s book says.

Natasha-Etherington- author of Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational NeedsAbout the Author

Natasha Etherington is a horticultural therapist and volunteer master gardener.  Following the Master Gardener training program she retrained as a Horticultural Therapist at The VanDusen Botanical Gardens.

She offers customized gardening programs and designs with a mindfulness approach. She designs gardens and adapts horticultural activities to enable people with barriers to enjoy the experience of gardening. Her therapeutic garden design at Pitt Meadows Elementary School won the 2010 Accessibility and Leisure and Recreation Award from the City of Maple Ridge.

She lives in British Columbia with her husband Jason and two children. Her website can be visited at

Buy book Jessica Kingsley Publishers


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  • Lorna dEntremont Posted April 4, 2016 5:08 pm

    The Adventures of Curious Juju, Thanks for stopping by to read our post on gardening for children. Hope your strawberry “plants” grow well. I have never started strawberry “seeds” before. Lorna

  • Brian Fuder Posted April 19, 2016 12:43 am

    My name is Brian Fuder and I live on the Minnesota/North Dakota Border (Fargo) and am developing a square foot gardening learning center I would love more information.

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