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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
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.