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Autism and the benefits of gardening


The act of gardening offers a host of perks for everyone, but it’s especially beneficial for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other special educational needs. There’s no better place than the great outdoors for nurturing the mind. Engaging with nature can help ASD children and adults build their social skills, boost their confidence, fight off anxieties, and push their mental boundaries in a safe, calm environment.

Gardening can be utilised as a tool to calm down after an overwhelming day or to teach valuable life skills about patience, perseverance, and the rewards of hard work. Activities that are done in the garden will also naturally assist with developing gross and fine motor skills without the pressure of a classroom setting, which ASD and SEN children can struggle with.

Read on to discover the main benefits of gardening and the long-lasting impacts on children and adults with autism.

Improves gross & fine motor skills

As we touched on earlier, gardening can have a massive impact on building up gross and fine motor skills. These are physical skills that can be applied to many other settings.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve using bigger muscles to complete activities like walking, running, and lifting[i]. The following gardening activities can help to develop these.

  • Raking – raking can build muscles and improve coordination.
  • Using a wheelbarrow – pushing a wheelbarrow around can develop arm and leg muscles.
  • Digging – digging builds up muscle strength and helps with balance

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills involve more complicated use of the smaller muscles in the hands and wrists. These movements help us to complete activities like holding and controlling pencils and using tools[ii]. These gardening activities can help to develop them.

  • Weeding – weeding is a fiddly job that requires a lot of fine muscle movements. It also helps promote a stable posture.
  • Planting seeds – this requires concentration and helps develop fine motor coordination.
  • Picking crops – more delicate fruits like blackberries and raspberries need a light touch to pick, and hardier crops like pears need more force to pick. Both activities will help develop fine motor skills and the power required to complete different but similar tasks.
  • Sifting soil – this activity helps with coordinated motor skills as both hands are used to complete the task.

Once a child has mastered their motor skills in the garden, they will start using them elsewhere. Children with ASD may need assistance applying the skills they’ve learnt in the garden to other settings like the classroom, but getting them down to a fine art outside of more pressurised settings will make it less overwhelming.


Communication is a crucial life skill that can be difficult for people with autism[iii]. Gardening can be done quietly and doesn’t require much communication, but as children learn which equipment is needed to do each task and each task’s outcome, they may start to communicate which tools they need and when something is wrong.

Promotes teamwork & socialisation

Socialising isn’t easy for people with ASD, who can find social situations overwhelming, daunting and uncomfortable. Gardening is a relatively easy way to introduce them to the concept of working alongside someone or as part of a team. When they’re working with other people to pick weeds or plant flowers, they will find it easier to engage in conversation about the task at hand. Gardening will also help them understand that such jobs are more manageable when people work together.

Calming environment

Due to the nature of autism, people on the spectrum can be easily overwhelmed when exposed to too much stimulation. Gardens are naturally a calm environment that can become a sanctuary, and gardening is a quiet activity that doesn’t require much noise and doesn’t offer much opportunity for overstimulation.


One of the joys of gardening is that it’s an inclusive activity that almost anyone can participate in. There are many jobs to be done that will suit a range of abilities, meaning people with autism can take part alongside their families and friends, no matter where they are on the spectrum and their capabilities.

Encourages healthier eating

Healthy eating is something many parents struggle to instil in their children, but children with autism are likely to eat selectively and are more at risk of excessive weight gain. This makes promoting healthy eating habits at a younger age a priority[iv].

Getting a child involved with growing vegetables and fruit from a young age could help them to become more comfortable with the idea of eating these foods, making a habit of healthy eating more comfortable in later life.

Teaches them responsibility

The garden is a perfect space to give a child with autism responsibility over. They will quickly learn that if daily tasks aren’t done, their flowers and plants will suffer. Over time, this sense of responsibility will give them confidence in their abilities, and they will be proud of what they’ve achieved in their garden.

Following instructions

When your child starts gardening, they’ll need some guidance. People on the autism spectrum can struggle with following instructions and can find it daunting when they’re told to do too much at once. Start with small tasks and go step-by-step. After some prompting and re-enforcement, they will find it easier to follow what they’re being told to do, especially when the outcome is positive (e.g. flowers they planted start to bloom, vegetables they’ve grown are ready to be harvested).

Sensory experience

Gardening can be used as a form of sensory therapy, the goal of which is to assist people with ASD to use all of their senses together, which is something they may naturally struggle to do[v]. The activity helps to engage the main senses:

  • Touch
  • Sight
  • Sounds
  • Smells

A therapist may utilise gardening to help engage these senses. This type of therapy can help resolve challenging and repetitive behaviours in a soothing environment that they enjoy being in.

Designing a sensory garden for someone with autism

If you have space and resources, designing a sensory garden is a fantastic idea to engage people with ASD and contributes to building a healthy routine.

We’ve written a guide on how to create a sensory garden which you can read here. This is a general guide that includes ideas for people with and without sensory issues. Still, there are extra elements to consider when designing a sensory garden for someone on the autism spectrum:

  • Offer a various spaces to explore – provide seating spaces with outdoor benches, play areas, areas to plant and grow, and a range of interesting nooks to explore.
  • Consider the effect of light – although different light effects can look good in a sensory garden, many people on the autism spectrum can be hypersensitive to sunlight and bright lights[vi]. Be considerate of how light reflects in the garden, and make sure there are plenty of shaded areas.
  • Introduce gentle sounds – people on the spectrum can be disturbed by loud, sudden, or repetitive sounds. The garden should be a relaxing space, so avoid features that produce intrusive noise. Instead, choose water features, gentle instruments and grasses like Pampas grass which make interesting sounds.
  • Keep their interests in mind – when designing a sensory garden, it can be tempting to go all out and crowd the space with interesting, fun features. However, you need to consider who it’s being made for. Do they prefer having space to run around orr quiet places to sit? Their needs should be the biggest influence on your decisions.

It’s time to get out in the garden

Gardening, as we have discovered above, has dozens of benefits for people on the autism spectrum. It can teach children critical life skills that they can apply in other situations and improve their life quality later down the line.



Bogdashina, O., 2015. Sensory Intolerance in Autism. [Online]
Available at: https://www.integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk/blog/sensory-intolerance-in-autism/
[Accessed February 2021].

Grant, A., 2019. Autistic Children And Gardening: Creating Autism Friendly Gardens For Kids. [Online]
Available at: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/children/autistic-children-and-gardening.htm
[Accessed February 2021].

Kid Sense, n.d. Gross Motor Skills. [Online]
Available at: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/gross-motor-skills/
[Accessed February 2021].

Marcus, n.d. Promoting healthy eating. [Online]
Available at: https://www.marcus.org/autism-resources/autism-tips-and-resources/promoting-healthy-eating
[Accessed February 2021].

Raising Children, n.d. Sensory integration. [Online]
Available at: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-guide/sensory-integration
[Accessed February 2021].

The Understood Team, n.d. Fine motor skills: What you need to know. [Online]
Available at: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/movement-coordination-issues/all-about-fine-motor-skills
[Accessed February 2021].



[i] https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/gross-motor-skills/

[ii] https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/movement-coordination-issues/all-about-fine-motor-skills

[iii] https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/children/autistic-children-and-gardening.htm

[iv] https://www.marcus.org/autism-resources/autism-tips-and-resources/promoting-healthy-eating

[v] https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-guide/sensory-integration

[vi] https://www.integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk/blog/sensory-intolerance-in-autism/

Anna Sharples

Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches - a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.

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