Gardening for those with Autism and Special Needs

In our modern society filled with stress, getting “back to the garden” is a good idea for everyone. According to a 2010 report released by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), teaching gardening to special needs children and young people is especially conducive to their development. Gardening is practical and process-orientated, suiting the visual and learning-through-doing needs of this group perfectly.

Ninety-five students with various developmental disorders, including autism, participated in a year-long study of teaching gardening in school. Over the course of the study, the avid gardeners grew in confidence and became more engaged in the activities, embracing a new level of responsibility for their own learning and progress. Interactions with one another and with adults improved as participants who once only wanted to work alone developed as members of a team. The students themselves reported that gardening calmed them down and made them happy.

Gardening can also be a gateway to meaningful future employment for young adults with autism. The first farm model for adults with autism was established at Somerset Court in England in 1974. 

BitterSweet Farms in Ohio is the first of its kind in the United States and currently has three campuses providing comprehensive services to individuals with autism. In North Carolina, Carolina Living and Learning Center is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. New Hampshire-based Farmsteads of New England was established in 2000, and now Full Spectrum Farms in North Carolina has enjoyed huge success in its first year of operation, providing fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers to local restaurants and meaningful work to its residents with autism.

The quiet, simple life and meaningful work of farming is conducive to the well-being of individuals with autism. Whether you garden with your child on acreage, in your yard or with pots on your apartment balcony, the benefits are great. Here are some tips for gardening with your special needs child, courtesy of

* Paint your gardening tool handles a bright color so you can easily spot them when you’ve set them down.
* Improve your grip. Use colorful electrician’s or bicycle tape to add foam padding to hard-to-hold gardening tool handles.
* Go for the lightweight. Tools don’t have to be heavy to be sturdy. Aluminum handled and fiberglass reinforced nylon tools are both strong and lightweight. 
* Consider handle extenders for short tools. 
* Replace old and broken garden tools and tool handles with ergonomically correct models.