This week we have been sharing our Children, Family and Specialist Support team's top autism acceptance tips, and how our natural affinity with nature can be a wonderful way for young autistic people to boost their wellbeing, in recognition of World Autism Acceptance Week and our involvement with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year.

We will be exhibiting The Natural Affinity Garden for Aspens at the show, with the help of garden designer Camellia Taylor and Project Giving Back. 

As we close the week we share all our tips here: 


Daily life can be very unpredictable and confusing for autistic young people. Accepting the importance of preparing autistic individuals can reduce anxiety and stress. This can be done by using visual schedules, social stories, practising, encouraging and rewarding flexibility, incorporating small and manageable changes into their routine.

Gardening is a perfect activity for young people who like structure as it is a repetitive activity that follows a natural structure, as plants and trees change and grow through the seasons. Activities such as checking and watering plants or gathering the tools needed to garden could be incorporated into a timetable which can provide routine. Visual schedules, now and next, tick lists can all be used to show the steps involved.
Accepting that every autistic young person may have a different sensory profile is important. Some may experience ‘over’ sensitivity to sounds, lights and touch and smells can be painful or very uncomfortable. In contrast, individuals who are ‘under’ sensitive, seek out sensory experiences and may make loud sounds, seek tight hugs and have a higher pain tolerance. Some sensory objects that can be used for self-regulation include weighted blankets, fidget toys, sunglasses and listening to music.
A garden can be a highly sensory, yet calming environment to be in. By designing a sensory garden, ‘over’ sensitive individuals can enter a calming environment and ‘under’ sensitive individuals can benefit from stimulating effects. A garden can provide sensory exploration, a sense of presence and grounding.
Our Chelsea Flower Show Natural Affinity Garden will encourage a connection with nature and maximise the benefits to a visitor’s wellbeing by engaging with the seven senses (touch, taste, scent, sight, sound, movement and temperature).
Some autistic young people can find meal-times and eating a difficult experience due to the sensory impact of food including smells, texture, taste or the environment in which they are eating.
If your child is finding things difficult try to adapt the place they eat their meals to better suit their needs, this may be quieter, darker or away from other people.
Talk to your child about what foods they enjoy eating and what they don’t, try not to place any pressure on them to eat but allow them the opportunity to explore trying new things when they are ready.
Exploring the way food grows from seed to the table through gardening can be beneficial. Growing your own vegetables can also provide a sense of hope, planting a seed and watching.
This can be a helpful therapeutic activity for young people suffering with an eating disorder, putting a completely different focus on food, helping individuals see a visual representation of small goals growing to become bigger outcomes.
Motor Skills
Studies have shown young people on the autism spectrum will have varying abilities and difficulties when it comes to fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills include anything that relies on small muscles in our hands, for example writing and manipulating objects. Gross motor skills refer to large movements involving the whole body, such as walking, running and jumping.
Gardening provides a great opportunity to practise repetition, which is key to developing motor skills. Fine motor skills can be improved through a number of gardening activities, such as weeding and planting seeds. Gross motor skills can be developed through gardening by raking which builds muscle and improves coordination and digging which builds strength and helps with balance. Once these motor skills have been mastered in the garden, they can then be transferred to daily life skills and can be used elsewhere.
Special Interests and Rituals
Special interests and ritualistic behaviours bring autistic people so much joy, reassurance, safety, a feeling of control and can be a positive influence on the rest of their lives.
Gardens are a safe space where autistic individuals can be themselves, a place where they can explore, run free, spin, jump, scream, sing, dance - all without judgement. Gardens can be designed with this in mind, for example trampolines, sensory planting, herbs, soft grasses, colour themes, pots decorated with small objects based on the young person’s individual and unique interests can all be used.
Acceptance that young people on the autism spectrum may experience varying means of communicating with people is important. Some young people are non-verbal, others talk a lot, some need longer to process, understand and respond, some may have difficulties reading body language or facial expressions and others find eye contact challenging. It is important to find out how an individual prefers to communicate (verbal, non-verbal, written, visual) and put this in place to help make interactions a little easier.
Communication skills can also be enhanced through gardening which provides a shared space where individuals can interact with others on a focused task in a quiet environment with no pressure to communicate. Communication tools and be easily introduced into gardening, for example PECS symbols and sign language. 
Mental Health
Autism is not a mental health problem however we do know that autistic young people are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems. Difficulties such as understanding and managing emotions and understanding those of others, communicating their thoughts and feelings to others, an overwhelming environment and social situations challenging can all lead to poor mental health.
Gardening is a great way of finding mindfulness, slowing down the mind and focusing the attention on the here and now. It can provide a way to help overcome struggles by providing not only a calming space and a place to connect with others but also an opportunity to learn new skills, take responsibility for a living thing and in turn help to improve self-esteem and begin to feel better about themselves.
Information on our Children, Family and Specialist Support services can be found here:

Children's Services

Family Support

Specialist Support