Gardening and Autism

Gardening and Autism

Child and Adolescent’s Center

Child and Adolescent΄s Center is the largest non-profit company in Greece based in the province and in fact on the remote island of Chios and one of the most dynamic organizations in the field of mental health in the country. In its 26 years of operation (founded in 1996) it has supported 9,364 children, adolescents, adults with developmental, emotional and psychiatric difficulties and their families. Our vision: A world that talks about mental health comfortably and recognizes, understands and accepts the diversity of people with psychiatric / psychological / developmental disorders.


Objective Action

Gardening is a means of multidimensional, alternative therapy for people with autism. The environment in which gardening programs take place is considered rich in natural stimuli and is a pleasant and safe means of therapy. Historically, the therapeutic benefits of engaging with the land have been attributed to a number of factors including fresh air, physical exercise, meaningful employment, and working with other people. Gardening activities can be adapted and modified according to the goals we set and the goals we want to achieve.

According to research, when children play in the natural environment, their attention improves and there is a reduction in stress levels, which allows them to concentrate on their daily activities with greater attention and pleasure. This approach borrows elements from Montessori pedagogy and creates an environment that provides the tools and framework for experiential learning for children to develop their full dynamic range of skills. This contributes to the all-round and harmonious development of the mental and physical powers of people with disabilities.

More specifically, horticultural therapy uses plants and gardening to promote the health and well-being of individuals and is the engagement in horticultural activities as a means of treatment and rehabilitation to improve physical, physiological, mental, social and spiritual well-being. their health. It helps strengthen muscles and improves coordination, balance and endurance. Individuals learn to work independently, solve problems and follow directions. A horticultural therapy program can be useful for participants to develop their individual and social skills, such as attention, responsibility, determination, communication, cooperation and social interaction.

Horticultural therapy continues to grow as a field and its programs are applied to populations with diverse needs. According to research, an environment in which horticultural activities are carried out can enhance the willingness to participate in people with ASD. The activities provide opportunities for participants to work on their sharing, waiting, following directions and discussion skills. Reinforcers in this effort can include different sensory stimuli, such as the texture of materials, the smell of plants, the sound of water, and the different colors of flowers.

At the Child and Adolescent Center, the gardening program engages 15-20 clients with structured activities to socialize, develop self-confidence and self-awareness, enhance their cooperation, fine motor skills and coordination with the correct use of tools and to develop the cognitive part of horticulture regarding the cultivation and care of plants. In addition, it offers them multi-sensory stimulation while simultaneously learning to work in a safe manner and observe hygiene rules.


Target Audience

Children, adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders



The therapeutic gardening program will conclude in the summer and begin again in September with the start of the new school year.


We know the best recipe for pesto with three ingredients: Love - Creativity - Raw materials from our garden! Children, adolescents and young adults with autism (beneficiaries of the Child and Adolescent Center) prepare their own pesto sauce with ingredients from their garden. The sauce making process is a celebration with all the beneficiaries participating! In the gardening program, the beneficiaries planted and cared for the basil until its harvest and prepared the sauce.

On the premises of our structures that support people with autism, in Peristeri, there is a beautiful garden, designed appropriately where we develop gardening programs. The purpose of the gardening program is to involve children, adolescents and young adults with Autism in all activities according to their abilities, individually and in groups, such as digging/carving to plant some aromatic plants (lavender, rosemary, arborvitae) and some of resistant flowering plants (lantana, tevkrio, dimorphothecia), their pruning and watering, the creation of cuttings, etc.

People with Autism can benefit from gardening programs as the environment in which gardening programs take place is considered rich in natural stimuli and is a pleasant and safe means of therapy. When people with Autism spend time in the natural environment there is a reduction in stress levels, which allows them to concentrate on their daily activities with greater attention and pleasure. A key element of gardening programs is that they provide beneficiaries with a sense of purpose and the ability to boost their self-confidence. In addition, they are an opportunity for social interaction with others.

Gardening uses natural materials, such as soil, sand, water, seeds, plants, etc. in order to achieve specific goals. The variety of natural materials can provide opportunities for developing new skills and a broader understanding of them. Additionally, differentiating between physical materials can enable the person with Autism to gain a deeper understanding of the skills they are mastering. Gardening programs can be a useful tool for our beneficiaries to develop individual and social skills such as attention, responsibility, determination and communication.

It's not just the pesto sauce... A key element of horticultural therapy is that it gives people with autism the opportunity to boost their confidence and provide them with a sense of purpose. In addition, the variety and diversity of natural materials used in horticultural therapy such as soil, sand, water, seeds and plants provide opportunities to develop new skills and a wider understanding of them.

Additionally, gardening programs create the right conditions for socialization. Social interaction in horticultural therapy can act as a key element in intervention aimed at improving the social self-efficacy of individuals with autism. The techniques used are aimed at teaching them new skills, maintaining existing ones and bringing back others that have been lost.



Impact on Society

The therapeutic gardening program has proven positive results in the progress of our beneficiaries. At the same time, the products produced by our beneficiaries are prepared (eg basil - pesto sauce, etc.) and sold in small bazaars, during our events. At the same time, it has been observed that this activity reduces their stress by presenting fewer attacks of anxiety or aggression, it boosts their self-confidence while they try the products they produce and their parents note that they have now included fruits and vegetables in their diet that they previously did not try.

The therapeutic gardening program can be a model in the local community but also more widely, for the utilization of the area's gardens, for a greener lifestyle and healthy diet, but also for the abilities and skills that can be developed by people with autism. and low functioning, like our beneficiaries, with little prospect of vocational rehabilitation, another problem faced by people on the spectrum.

Similar gardening programs for people with autism are carried out abroad, mainly in English-speaking countries, and have amazing results (which is where the scientific literature we have consulted comes from). However, in our country and in the Balkan countries, they are rare and still at an early stage, without scientific publications and documented results.

Initiative Location

The gardening programs are implemented in the garden that exists in the structures of the Child and Adolescent Center in Peristeri, Attica.


Working with Organization

Although there is no collaboration with another organization, it is pointed out that the gardening program is designed based on collaborations, both with the families of the beneficiaries, as well as with the workers and volunteers.


Workers Participation

The head of the gardening program is a Special Education Agronomist and he is supported by a 10-member team consisting of specialist therapists (occupational therapists, special educators, etc.) from the interdisciplinary team of the Child and Adolescent Center and 5 volunteers.



Benefits for Οrganization

Our garden has been transformed into a gardening "laboratory", where with the appropriate equipment it produces sufficient quantities of fresh vegetables and their products (sauces, etc.), without preservatives and chemical enhancers that harm health.

Part of them is sold in small, local bazaars, strengthening the financial viability of the Child and Adolescent Center. At the same time, Corporate and Corporate Responsibility Departments often contact us to request small corporate gifts made by our beneficiaries. The social benefits, through the gardening program, are the autonomy of our beneficiaries, as well as the development of communication and socialization skills, but also their entertainment through programs that are meaningful to them.


Connection with Global Goals

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