A sensory garden stimulates all five senses: sight, touch, taste, and sound, all through the use of different plants and materials. These gardens allow autism sufferers to explore their senses in a stimulating, but safe, environment. Early intervention is important for autistic children, and a sensory garden allows them to explore their senses without becoming overwhelmed by them.
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When you design a sensory garden, it is good to get creative with the colors that you use in the garden, to provide visual stimulation. Color can come from plants, stones on patios, gravel, and bricks. The balance of color is important. Make sure you don’t introduce too many bright colors into one space.
Depending on the size of your sensory garden, you might want also want to introduce some signs. Many autistic people are non-verbal, so communicating the intention in some areas of the garden can benefit these children.
In terms of sound, you can introduce peace and tranquility whilst still stimulating the sense. You could decide to include water features in your sensory garden, or different grasses that make interesting sounds. Pampas grass and pearl grass are good choices. Calming sounds can also be included by the wind blowing through the leaves and streams, so plants like bamboos and large-leafed plants are good picks too.
You don’t have to include only natural sounds in your garden. You could include some gentle instruments in the garden, such as the Cadenza which can be fun for children to play with. Wind chimes or a Sonora are nice extras to add to the garden as well.
All plants and materials will release different scents in your harden. Good plants for pleasant scents include honeysuckle, lavender, and mint. When you are planning your sensory garden, choose smells that will work together. Try to pair more subtle scents with a few stronger ones, to keep it interesting for the senses.
Taste might not be the most obvious sense to try to appeal to in the garden, but you could include some edible flowers in the sensory garden. It is a better idea to keep all of the edible plants in the same area, so nobody gets confused about what can or cannot be eaten. You could also include some more obvious edible plants, such as fruit trees and bushes, or strawberries and tomatoes. Raspberries are easy to grow, and tasty too! Get your child involved in growing the edible plants, and this could be a way to encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables!
Touch is an important sense in the sensory garden. You can experiment with a range of different textures in there. Lamb’s ear plants are ideal for this. As the name suggests, they feel wooly and soft. Jerusalem sage is another good choice, as it has soft leaves and stems, as well as colorful flowers. Mix in some alternative textures, such as houseleek, which has rigid leaves, or African Sundew, which is sticky to the touch.