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Fact-checked by Vincenza De Falco, Autism & Learning Disabilities Specialist Coach.
Plants are living organisms, and they are vital to survival on earth. Not only do they provide nutrition that is necessary for humans, but they also provide the oxygen that is necessary for life. Everyone should learn to respect plants, including autistic children. By teaching your autistic child about gardening, farming, and plants as a food source, you can teach him or her to respect plants.
Start with Shared Stories and Books
You can tell stories and read books to your autistic child from a very young age. You can start with stories of plants and how they grow. You can teach your child about the benefits that plants bring to people by telling stories from the perspective of the plant and how it goes through the life cycle.
In addition, you can share stories on how to grow plants. When you introduce these topics through stories and books, your autistic child will start to learn that plants are living organisms that are important in the world.
Grow a Plant From Seeds 🌱
Once your child is old enough, you can find a simple plant that is started in a pot. You might buy tomatoes or a simple flower. You can teach your child how to water it. Your child can also learn how important sunlight is and how sunlight is what allows photosynthesis, which is critical to life on earth.
As your child watches the plant grow, your child will start to understand that the plant is dependent on the child for water and food. This might be a plant that you transition outdoors after it gets big enough, or it might be something you grow indoors and eat.
Plant a Garden 🏡
Planting a garden can be a wonderful activity to help your autistic child learn to respect plants. The entire process is hands-on and engaging, and your child will learn a great deal by watching the plants grow and develop over time.
You can start the first time with potted plants such as flowers. There are some flowering plants that are pretty easy to grow. You will want to look for Zinnias, Marigolds, Pansies, Impatiens, Begonias, Snapdragons, or Daffodils. These are all plants that can survive less than perfect conditions and still thrive.
In addition to being an exciting method for teaching your autistic child to respect plants, a flower garden can help to provide sensory experiences through colors, textures, and smells. Gardening also provides an opportunity to work on fine motor skills, sharing, and relaxation.
There are a number of steps that you will go through to start growing your first garden. You can go to the nursery or a store that sells potted flowers and let your child choose from a selection. You will also need the following supplies:
- Seeds, young plants, or a combination of both
- Fertilizer or topsoil
- Soil-tilling tools
- Shovel and spade
- Garden hose
- Fencing material
Your child will love gathering these supplies, and growing a garden can be very exciting. Once you have all of your supplies, you can get ready for your project. Make sure that you talk to your autistic child about the project because this is a time to explain how plants have needs so that they can grow.
Choose a spot in your yard that is ideal for growing flowers. You want a spot that is in rich soil that drains easily. You can also use flowerbeds or window boxes if you have them. In fact, you can build flower boxes with your autistic child if you choose to go that route.
You should also plan out the design of your garden. It is important to space plants properly so that they have room to grow. You can discuss this with your autistic child and point out how just as people grow, plants will grow. Your child will gain more exposure to the concept that plants are living organisms.
When you are ready to prepare the soil, you can take the soil tilling tool or a rake to break the soil up in your garden area. You want to work the soil down to about 12 inches. You should remove rocks, roots, and other debris from the garden bed. If you are using flower boxes, you will add topsoil to the box.
Once you work the soil and remove roots, large rocks, and other debris, you can fertilize the soil and add in the compost to prepare it for growing your flowers. Now you are ready to start planting the young plants according to your design.
You can use the spade to dig holes that are spaced a few inches apart. You can find out how far apart to space them by checking the needs of your flowers. Now you can teach your child how to place the flowers in the garden and cover them. Once they are all planted, it is time to water them.
Make sure that you have the nozzle set on a sprinkler set to dampen the garden. You never want to overwater the plants as this can harm them. You can water them once a day, and make sure your child learns to water plants in the morning so that they have time to dry, which will prevent diseases from occurring.
Once you have your garden planted, your autistic child can learn to water it. In addition, you will want to pull weeds when they pop up. Your child will learn how much care goes into nurturing your flower garden. You can also build a little perimeter fence to prevent wild animals from walking on the garden and ruining it if you have planted them in the ground.
There are many therapeutic benefits to growing a garden. It will teach your child to respect plants, but it will also give them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Working outdoors can reduce anxiety, and it is a very soothing activity.
Growing a Vegetable Garden 🥬
Another way to teach your autistic child to respect plants is by growing a vegetable garden. A flower garden is beautiful and fun to do, but there are practical uses to growing a vegetable garden because you will be able to eat the food that is grown.
Much of the process is the same as planting a flower garden, but you will choose vegetables instead. You can start with something simple such as tomatoes, peppers, or carrots, and you can add to the garden over time. Here are some vegetables to consider:
- Summer squash
- Strawberries (fruit, but delicious)
You have many different choices, and your child will enjoy caring for the garden and harvesting the veggies to eat. This is a wonderful opportunity for your autistic child to learn about plants as well as the importance of food and caring for plants so that the veggies will grow.
Farming for Autistic Children 🌾
In addition to growing a garden at home, there are many different farming programs that are designed to help children with autism. These farms provide autistic children and adults with the opportunity to go to a farm and learn how to grow, harvest, package, and ship food to other people. This provides an opportunity for them to learn how to respect plants as well.
You can visit local farms or produce stands to talk about plants and food with your autistic child. Learning builds understanding, and as your child learns about the process involved in growing, harvesting, and preparing food, he or she will learn how important plants are in the world today.
Visit a Botanical Garden
Botanical gardens provide a wonderful opportunity to teach autistic children about nature. They will learn about all different kinds of plants and what their names are. You can often see plants that aren’t native to your area in a botanical garden. There are many fascinating plants, and the way they are grown creates an incredible environment.
Many botanical gardens also have nature trails, and spending this time outdoors with nature can be soothing and comforting for your autistic child. You will be able to teach your child all about different kinds of plants through this experience.
Botanical gardens often have areas where they grow certain plants together to mimic particular ecosystems. This also helps your autistic child to learn to respect plants because it shows another important aspect of plant life. In ecosystems such as the rainforest, plant life is critical to the survival of the animals there.
In addition, botanical gardens will provide opportunities for autistic children to learn about endangered plant species. This can help children understand why it is so important to respect and take care of plants. It is fascinating to learn how interconnected all different life forms are, and visiting a botanical garden can help bring this concept home for your autistic child.
Creating Potted Plants for Family and Friends
You can also teach your autistic child to respect plants by creating potted plants as gifts for loved ones. By learning that plants are a gift that people value, your child starts to understand that plants should be respected.
You can buy small clay pots and paints. You can let your child paint the little flower pot. This creative activity is beneficial because art can help autistic children communicate feelings and other thoughts. Once the pot is finished, you can choose flowers or other plants to plant in the pot and give to your loved ones.
When your autistic child learns how meaningful the gift is to loved ones, it helps to reinforce the idea that plants are something to be respected.
Take Care of Your Yard at Home 🏡
Not only will cutting the grass and trimming bushes at home teach your autistic child that plants are living organisms that need care, but it will also help your autistic child learn responsibility. There are safe lawn mowers that are not gas-powered, as well as a number of different tools for trimming bushes. Your child can learn how important your plants are at home and that they need to be cared for.
These activities help with fine motor skills, responsibility, stress reduction, and more. Working outside in the yard is healthy for work that gives your child an opportunity to learn more about plants and what they need. They need water and sunlight, but they also need care because if left alone, plants keep growing, weeds pop up, and your yard can become very unmanageable quickly.
Participate in a Community Cleanup
Often communities have cleanup activities scheduled at various times in the year, and this provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about how to respect nature, plants, and the ecosystem. When you take your autistic child to clean up litter from parks or other places where plants grow, your child begins to learn that being part of a community is a way that people work together. Your child will learn that different people participate because they all have one thing in common, the respect of plants.
Final Words 🎍
There are many different ways that you can teach your autistic child to respect plants. Growing a garden of flowers or vegetables is a great place to get started. Your child can learn so much about the importance of plants and how they function. Growing a garden can be a simple task if you buy flowers or vegetables that are easy to grow.
In addition, you can visit a botanical garden or participate in community cleanup. These activities both provide an opportunity to further plant education of your autistic child, and they allow your child to learn more about plants and the harmful effects of pollution on them.
Visiting a working farm with crops is another valuable experience. Your autistic child will learn more about the process of pants getting from the farm to the public as a food source. These are all engaging activities that will help your autistic child learn to respect plants.
Vincenza De Falco is an Autism & Learning Disabilities (LD) specialist coach with extensive experience working with young people with various needs in different settings. Her passion for Autism & LD started as a volunteer at a multi-functional provision for Autism whilst studying for a BA in Theatre, Education, and Deaf Studies.
Throughout her career, Vincenza continues her professional development alongside working within numerous support and leadership roles in education and charities. Having gained Level 3 in Speech and Language Support, HLTA qualification, Level 3 Award in Education and Training, and Level 3 CMI Coaching qualification, Vincenza has furthered her expertise within Autism & LD.
Entering the Third Sector as a Project Manager developing and delivering a specialist NEET program, she subsequently joined ThinkForward’s newest venture DFN MoveForward, supporting young people with Autism & LD to successfully transition from education into paid employment. Through 1:1 coaching, family support, and training employers to become disability confident, Vincenza builds bespoke programs for young people with the end goal of work readiness and employment. Through Vincenza’s passion for creating systemic change in Disability and employment, she forms part of the successful partnership running the DFN Project Search Supported Internship at Moorfields Eye Hospital.