Sensory Integration as applied to Horticultural Therapy for Children
The nervous system organizes our sensory information and creates an environmental experience, which can be either efficienct or conversely, dysfunctional because of a disorganized nervous system. Sensory integration is all the sensations coming from within the body and from our external environment. Our senses are not separate channels of information - they piece together how we perceive the world. Our senses integrate to form a complete understanding of who we are, where we are, and what is happening around us. An intact Sensory Intergration system allows a child to efficiently participate. A challenged SI system can interfere with play skills and behaviors. There are other fundamental senses in additon to the basic five senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing. Proprioceptive/Kinesthetica: understanding/awareness/perception of our body. Vestibular: relation of our head to gravity, balance and movement.
Bringing sensory awareness activities* into HT can help a child focus and give them the chance to be engaged by one or more of senses. Using a sensory garden with in a Horticultural Therapy program can be very benefical - it can nurture the senses by having herbs for scent, soft leaves for touch and chimes for sound. Measuring the success of of this SI can be simply observing a child's response, an increased understanding of a task or a refinement in the grade of body movement.
There can be many opportunities to apply basic sensory integration concepts in HT. Understanding SI can deepen and expand the Horticultural Therapist's work*, whether planning a garden, working with groups or helping to gain insight to a child's individual needs, deficits and strengths. Having the knowledge of how and why sensory awareness can be therapeutic for a child's development can help further the overall scope of how HT can integrate into many existing programs in schools, hospitals, assisted care facilities and the population in general.
Nature deficit disorder is gaining attention as a issue especially in especially in regards to children. HT can be part of the solution. As the HT field grows, the professional Horticultural therapist can continue to investigate any further related research, which in turn can bring increased recognition to this mode of therapy. Sensory integration research and it's science findings can go hand in hand with the basic premise of HT. All the senses can be utilized in a garden and when made accessible the benefits present themselves to children in a natural, nurturing and supportive environment.
*Sensory gardening and related activites are not a substitute for formal SI therapy, which must be implemented by a specially trained therapist.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
― John Muir