BACKGROUND-gardening‘There’s nothing to do’ and ‘I’m bored’ are often repeated phrases for children and teens.

Imagine what it’s like for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability who encounters various obstacles throughout the day. Someone with down syndrome may have to rely on someone for transportation. Someone with autism may deal with sensory overload. Someone with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may not comprehend as quickly as someone of higher intelligence.

When obstacles arise, it’s tempting to want to throw in the towel and yell defeat. What good does this create though? By allowing or forcing people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to sit on the sidelines and let their intellect and abilities fall to the wayside, we allow less abled people.

Anyone, particularly people with I/DD, has the opportunity to become more independent and gain lifelong skills if only they receive the proper encouragement and advice. It boils down to positive reinforcement in which a positive action is presented once the consequence of the behavior and the behavior increases.

When someone with autism or down syndrome participates in a community garden or some sort of gardening project, he or she receives many positive benefits. The garden and all that is produces are a positive reinforce. What exactly are the benefits? There’s exercise and fresh air, stress reduction, social interaction and inclusion, responsibility and increased emotional health.

“Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills. It also uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone’s ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent,” according to the nonprofit Thrive, a leading charity in the UK changing the lives of people with disabilities through gardening.

Gardens and garden projects don’t have to be huge. Small flower or produce gardens or even container gardens allow people with disabilities to learn and grow. The process of planting seeds or plants and gaining so many lessons and responsibilities is something that everyone can benefit from and people with disabilities should not be excluded from this opportunity.

“The healing benefits of gardening continue to shine in the medical field, where patients find relief from stress and anxiety when working with plants. Additional evidence of the psychological impact of gardening is revealed through patients recovering from surgeries, cancer treatments, and those suffering from memory loss,” according to the National Gardening Association.

Oftentimes, people with disabilities may not make it to the gym or go running. Gardening is way for them to get activity in their daily living. Thanks to technology, there are tools that may assist those who need it. Raised garden beds are an option for those in wheelchairs.

Do you know of someone with an intellectual or developmental disability? Don’t you think they deserve a chance to gain lifelong gardening and sustainability skills while making new friends in a socially inclusive environment?

The Arc of the Midlands is busy growing the Mixed Greens program around the Midlands area of South Carolina. We’ve started produce and flower gardens in Sumter and Columbia and are looking forward to future collaborations come this spring. Mixed Greens is perfect for homes, churches, schools and libraries. The only limit is your imagination. For more information about Mixed Greens program or The Arc of the Midlands, contact Natalie at natalie@arcmidlands.org.

Natalie Szrajer is a project manager with The Arc of the Midlands serving the Midlands area of South Carolina. The Arc of the Midlands serves and advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Visit www.arcmidlands.org or email her at natalie@arcmidlands.org.

Herald Independent