Growing Wild with autism
This year, 42 groups working with people with autism received wildflower seed kits from Grow Wild, to transform unloved spaces across the UK. We caught up with a school in London and another in Nottingham to find out what the benefits of growing are for people with autism and their wider communities.
Julia Lampard from Ambitious About Autism works at the Treehouse School, a specialist school for children aged 4-19, who have complex autism. This means that whilst the primary diagnosis is autism, the pupils also have a range of complex learning difficulties, and sensory and communication issues.
“Sometimes society isn’t very understanding of children with autism. You see a child having a meltdown in the supermarket for example, and you assume it’s bad parenting, but it’s not, it’s actually sensory overload from the bright lighting and the noise of the environment. Having the seed kits from Grow Wild is enabling us to bring people from the local community and also corporate volunteers, together with the children we work with, so that we can foster a better understanding of children with autism. It’s also an opportunity for the children to spend time, on a level footing, with people who enjoy doing the same things as them; growing together,” Julia tells me.
“Around 70% of our students use methods other than speech to communicate. A big part of the work we do is around providing the means for them to communicate, because when you can’t communicate you can become very frustrated and this often leads to behavioural issues,” she says.
“As our name suggests, we’re ambitious for the children we work with, we want to know where they want to be as adults and help them to get there. We listen to the views of the children themselves and also their families and they tell us that they want what any of us wants as we grow up - somewhere to live and work, and to be part of society. That’s why we do a lot of work around vocational possibilities, training and eventually work placements; horticulture and landscaping is a big part of that.”
The school has a bit of land next door, leased to them by Thames Water, which is where the students learn about horticulture and ecology and is also where they are growing their wildflowers.
Hands-on learning like growing is beneficial to children with autism in particular, for a variety of reasons. “Children with autism find abstract concepts difficult when learning. If they look at the process of a seed growing into a flower in a book it doesn’t mean much to them, but if they actually sow the seed, water it and watch it growing, they become far more involved in the whole process and it becomes tangible for them,” Julia says, “our pupils also like being outside in a natural environment because they find it calming.”
I catch up with a couple of the volunteers from Just IT, to find out how volunteering with the school has benefited them too.
“Ambitious about autism is our chosen charity of the year this year and it’s been a really good experience working with them, because it’s given us a better understanding of how we can tailor our apprenticeships to accommodate people with autism. They came in and did a session to show us how to make sure our rooms aren’t overwhelming for people with autism,” Jemma, marketing manager at Just IT tells me.
“Normally I’m stuck behind a computer screen looking at numbers all day, so it’s nice to get out and do something a bit different,” Gary says.
In Nottingham, Cavan Kieran is leading a group of secondary school pupils, who have autism, to create a wildflower patch and woodland walk at Rosehill, a specialist school for students with autism.
“We teach life skills. The kids find the tactile learning far more interesting, and it’s more useful to them too, to be honest. The smiles on their faces are enough to show how beneficial it is to them,” Cavan tells me.
“We’re a big inner-city school, so we have lots of land, and a project like this is perfect to transform it. The area that’s going to be the wildflower space has just been soil for ages”.
Cavan promises to send us photos of the transformation!
if you’re working with people with special needs or autism and would like to try growing, get in touch.