My cousin’s daughter was first diagnosed with autism last fall at the age of 2 and a half. Two weeks ago they found out that her autism is on the severe side. They are unable to determine at this point if she will attend a regular school/what kind of help she will need throughout her life. Myself, not knowing very much about this awful condition is heartbroken for my cousin and his fiance [they are both in their early 20's so I think they are having a difficult time coming to terms with this issue] and for little Sylvia.
Their doctor made the suggestion of creating a sensory garden where she can be stimulated by feel, smell, taste and sight, and adding in wind chimes for sound. I thought that was an amazing idea; for any child or adult with special needs. The family lives in an apartment so my aunt has vowed to start a sensory garden in her backyard this summer.
My mum and I were talking with her over the weekend and we came up with a few plants that she thinks would be good for the garden. For taste: basil, sage, mint, and oregano which would also be for smell. Strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrents. Smell: various roses, asiatic lilies, clethra, honeysuckle and lavender. Feel: she wasn’t too sure on this so I came up with stachys, phlomis [not hardy here, though], salvia, yarrow, heather, calamagrostis [I love this grass] and the possibility of adding in textured stones for a path or border and moss seats. Sight: the possibilities are endless with this. As I think all plants are beautiful, this is what my aunt was most comfortable with growing and having Sylvia around – zinnias, wildflowers, marigolds, begonias and poppies for annuals. Russian sage, coneflowers of all colours, amsonia blue ice, hardy geraniums and astilbe. Hibiscus shrubs would probably look great in there, too, with their big bright blooms. Sound: in addition to the wind chimes we thought of a bird bath to encourage birds to stop by and sing in the bath.
I’m not sure what plants she will end up using as her yard isn’t very big. She was thinking of hiring a landscaper and plant more mature plants so she doesn’t have to wait a few years before the garden is established. She wants to have each section [smell, feel, taste..] separated since there is a concern that too much at once might overwhelm her. It’s been upsetting watching her grow up around children and her not interact with them, not being able to communicate with you and not even acknowledge you when you talk to her. Now that we all know she has autism we are trying to better understand her world and how to help. I did some looking around on the internet about the sensory idea and it seems fairly common to create a garden that stimulates the senses for autistic children. I even discovered sensory garden schools and parks specially designed for autistic children in the UK and Australia. I’m trying to look for some in our area right now. This is such a great thing for people with sensory perceptual issues associated with autism that really needs more attention in our country and others.
I will keep this blog updated with the process of the sensory garden and how it turns out.