Last week my local newspaper ran this item about a group called Ability Beyond Disability. The group, which provides vocational training and employment for those with autism and other disabilities, purchased a rose farm that was going to close. It has started to sell its wares through a local supermarket, Stew Leonard’s, and plans to hire 25 people with autism and other disabilities at the farm.
Horticulture can have a powerful effect on those with autism, many of which suffer from movement and sensory difficulties. All the senses can be stimulated in a powerful and constructive fashion. The physical effort required provides a means of exercise and can be metered to the capabilities of any person. Touching plants, “smelling the roses,” looking at a variety of bright colors can evoke wonderful feelings and stimulate different senses. Working with others in a group makes the job more pleasurable and increases interactions and friendships. But perhaps most important aspect of this type of work is that by having a job, those with autism can be successful and contribute in a positive way on their own. This gives them dignity and a great deal of increased self-worth, which are counter to a life that can be tightly controlled and managed.
Here is a story about Thresholds, a Chicago-based group that uses employment-oriented horticultural therapy to help those with mental illness become more in tune with society. Thresholds has “a flower shop in the Loop that involves our members and horticulture therapy; I've seen some of the member there change from people who could not look at you in the eye [or get to work] turn into vibrant, terrific people who are now coming into their own,” said Thresholds board member Ron Grais.
And the Daily News writes about this school-yard program that gets local children into gardens to see how vegetables and other plants grow.