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Use the information provided on this site as an educational resource for determining your options and making your own
informed choices. It is not intended as medical advice or to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any specific illness.
Toys, Products, and Ideas
for Sensory Education
|Horticultural Therapy (HT) as defined by the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) is the engagement of
a person in gardening-related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals.
Therapeutic garden environments offer individuals the opportunity to connect to the natural world. AHTA believes that
the passive experience of a garden can improve health and well-being. Therapeutic benefits occur when people are
exposed to plants, and when they take part in planning, planting, growing, and caring for plants.
Physical, mental, social, and creative abilities are enhanced through horticultural therapy. The cycles of life are in
immediate view in gardens. The ever-present processes of renewal provide encouragement to the suffering. It is non-
threatening to the client, encourages social activity, improves memory, provides sensory stimulation and exercise,
reduces stress and tension, diminishes anger and rewards nurturing behavior. HT incorporates plant and garden
related activities as a modality for development of gross motor skills, tactile processing, visual stimulation, olfactory
stimulation, social skills, and pre-vocational experiences.
The main focus of this therapy is textural exploration of outdoor textures, including sand, potting soil, water, plants and
grass. Activities are designed to expose children to these textures in a non-threatening, playful way that encourages
participation. Activity examples include transplanting and nature crafts for exploration with the hands, and barefoot
nature walks and sandbox play for exploration with the feet. Goals are set according to the child’s comfort level. For
instance, if getting hands dirty at the greenhouse worktable is too intimidating, start out playing with match box cars in
a small bin of soil. If getting into the sand box is not possible, making a craft using sand might be the starting point.
With repeated exposure to these textures through organized horticulture activities, children are often able to explore
them more independently, and with a longer attention span, than before.
Working with, and understanding about, plants can be an effective tool for developing the senses, reducing stress,
and learning to make new connections in autistic children and adults. Plants provide opportunities to explore life,
nurturing, modulation, non-aggressive options and choices for dealing with natural adversities, and why learning about
other life (and people) outside of ourselves is so important. For autistics of all ages, plants provide an opportunity to
successfully interact with another life form that doesn't require a lot of time or money and that can enhance, rather
than compromise, as the human world sometimes can, one's sense of "self" and one's way of being.
In 2005, Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" was
published. It was the first book to bring together a growing body of research that shows a link between the absence of
nature in today's wired generation to some of the most disturbing trends in children, including obesity, attention deficit
disorders and depression. It confirmed what most people instinctively know: that frequent play in nature is essential for
the healthy development of our children. Almost immediately after its publication, this book inspired grassroots
initiatives across the country, as people recognized the need to reconnect our children with nature. See our Nature
Page for more!
UCSC LifeLab has a wonderful program aimed at preschool age children. Group tours are available and the
employees are educators who are excellent with kids. They also have programs all year long promoting gardening to
classrooms and schools.