A great book for Autism Awareness Day!

gardening for children with ASD April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day, and what better way to mark it than to showcase Natasha Etherington’s great new book, Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Educational Needs.

There is scant literature and research in this field, so Etherington’s book is a welcome and timely addition.

The TLN encourages everyone interested in this subject to also join our Austim and Special Needs group on Linked In.

Here’s a blurb about the book from Jessica Kingsley Publishers:

A garden or nature setting presents the perfect opportunity for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and special needs to learn, play and strengthen body and mind. This book empowers teachers and parents with little gardening know-how to get outside and use nature to motivate young learners.

Using a mindfulness approach, Natasha Etherington presents a simple gardening program that offers learning experiences beyond those a special needs student can gain within the classroom. The book outlines the many positive physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional and social benefits of getting out into the garden and provides specially adapted gardening activities for a variety of needs, including those with developmental disabilities and behavioural difficulties, as well as wheelchair users. With a focus on the therapeutic potential of nature, the book shows that gardening can help reduce feelings of anxiety, provide an outlet for physical aggression, build self-esteem through the nurturing of plants and much more.

With this practical program, teachers and parents can easily adopt gardening activities into their schedules and enjoy the benefits of introducing children with special needs to nature and the rhythms of the seasons.

And here, also from JKP, is an interview with the author.

Special Needs Book Review also did a great write-up about the book and an interview with the author, which you can find HERE.


Chicago Botanic Garden seminar: “Gardens for veterans & children with sensory processing & spectrum disorders.”

Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo by Allen Rokach,

Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo by Allen Rokach,

Chicago Botanic Garden Healthcare Garden Design Seminar Program:
Healing Through Nature: Healthcare Gardens for Veterans and Children with Sensory Processing and Spectrum Disorders

July 20 – 22 2012
Glencoe, IL

This is going to be SUCH a good seminar.

Returning veterans and children with sensory processing and spectrum disorders [such as Autism Spectrum Disorder] are two growing segments of the population that share a common root in disrupted neurological processing, which impacts all areas of life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is increasingly a public health crisis. The number of cases is expected to grow, ultimately exceeding 500,000 in the United States, according to a study by researchers at Stanford University. Autism spectrum disorders are estimated to affect one in every 110 children. The unique challenges facing both of these special populations, their families, and their communities necessitates discussion on how to best serve and create garden environments of care where education, treatment, and recreation take place.

This three-day seminar offers a broad approach for discussion on how healing gardens and therapeutic spaces can be instrumental in recovery, treatment, and stress reduction for special populations. The program will draw on the expertise of medical professionals, researchers, and practitioners to discuss the complexities of diagnosis and treatment. These sessions will be combined with case studies led by landscape architects currently working to implement healing spaces, along with discussions about design features and guidelines for therapeutic gardens that serve these special populations.

Visit for more details.

For past TLN Blog posts related to these topics, visit the following:

“Methodologies frame how we produce knowledge.” Guest post by Carol Krawczyk

Photo by Carol Krawczyk

Today’s guest blog post is by Carol Krawczyk, a landscape architect whom I first met at the 2010 ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network tour of restorative landscapes in Washington, D.C. We have been corresponding ever since, and Carol has become an active member of the TLN groups on Linked In and Facebook, as well as the new TLN “Autism and Special Needs” subgroup on Linked In. Her insights about research, especially research methodologies, are important in this field, where we are placing more and more value on evidence-based design (EBD). Carol’s doctoral work focuses on environments for children with autism. If this is an area of interest, please join our Linked In group, and stay tuned for a page devoted to this topic on the TLN website. Many thanks, Carol!

Methodologies frame how we produce knowledge
By Carol Krawczyk, ASLA

Naomi Sachs and I began corresponding through this blog regarding the topic of research methodologies. Naomi had summarized an article on gardens and walkways about people who lived in senior assisted living facilities (ALFs). The author had observed seniors in two ALFs and had interviewed staff and therapists at these facilities in order to recommend important landscape design suggestions. I commented that while this research was important, it was still deficient because we –the readers, researchers and practitioners who would use this information – did not know why the senior citizens made decisions regarding which pathways to take, which seats to sit on, what views they particularly enjoyed, etc. So, at Naomi’s request, I’ll describe some of the research methods I like to use and the reasons why.


“Outdoor Environments for Children with Autism & Special Needs” in InformeDesign’s ‘Implications’

April Implications 2011 'Outdoor Environments for Children with Autism and Special Needs' by Naomi Sachs and Tara VincentaHot off the press! InformeDesign’s latest issue of Implications (Vol. 9, Issue 1) just went live today, and it features an article by Naomi Sachs and Tara Vincenta, “Outdoor Environments for Children with Autism and Special Needs.” I mentioned this article in my April 13th blog post about Autism Awareness and Landscape Architecture month, but it had not come out yet.

So take a look by linking to the pdf here:


And here is the resource list on autism and related disorders and children and nature mentioned in the article , which will also soon be available for download from the TLN Get Out and Play! page:
PDF of resources on autism and nature-based learning and play for InformeDesign’s ‘Implications’ (Vol. 9, Issue 1)

Tara Vincenta developed the Sequential Outdoor Learning (SOL) Environment and many of the design guidelines in our article are based on SOL Environment principles.

Many thanks to InformeDesign for giving me and Tara this platform to share our work. InformeDesign is an evidence-based design tool that transforms research into an easy-to-read, easy-to-use format for architects, graphic designers, housing specialists, interior designers, landscape architects, and the public. They are, in my humble opinion, one of the best resources out there.

And if you know of people who would benefit from the information in this post, please pass it on!


April: Autism Awareness & Landscape Architecture Month

Lilac buds. Photo by Naomi Sachs

April lilac buds. Photo by Naomi Sachs

April is both Autism Awareness and Landscape Architecture Month, so it seems fitting to do a blog post about the intersection of Autism and the way that the natural world can help people of all abilities. There isn’t a whole lot of research specifically on how interaction with nature affects people with Autism, but we’re getting there, and the TLN is glad to be able to share what resources we do know about. See the attached pdf at the end of this post, as well as our Get Out and Play! page. If you have any that aren’t on our list, please let me know!

In addition, for Autism Awareness Month:

Carol Krawczyk has been writing a series of articles on her blog, The Engagement Zone: How people engage with the environment. Carol has also written a (not yet published) TLN Blog guest post, so be on the lookout for that.

And Tara Vincenta and I have just finished an article based on last year’s KaBOOM! webinar, “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Other Special Needs.” The article will be published in the next issue of Implications, InformeDesign’s newsletter. If you don’t yet know about InformeDesign, now you do, and your world is now a better place. InformeDesign is one of the best resources for anyone interested in the intersection of research and design – in other words, a treasure trove for evidence-based design (EBD). To get to the original webinar, go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page and scroll down to the one with the above title (“Prescription for Play: Nature-Based…”). They have produced many other great webinars since, so you’ll need to scroll down a ways. Tara Vincenta is Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and is also creator of the Sequential Learning Outdoor (SOL) Environment. A Sequential Outdoor Learning Environment is specifically designed to support children and families living with the challenges of Autism and other special needs. These unique spaces, which are equally engaging for any child, offer a fun, safe and secure outdoor play and learning environment, while also presenting an array of opportunities to overcome common challenges.

And for Landscape Architecture Month:

To celebrate LA Month, Landscape Architecture Magazine is allowing everyone access to this month’s magazine online (click HERE to access). If you go to page 10, you can Letters to the Editor  in response to Bradford McKee’s February Land Matters article “Reading, Writing, and Radishes,” including one my me. And here it is, in case you don’t want to thumb through the Zinio file:

Great article! Sure, the sky is falling in many ways, but I firmly believe that this is also an exciting time when good grassroots work is being met by “top-down” players such as government, policy makers, designers, and health providers. A confluence of movements – sustainability, locavore, children and nature, healing landscapes, livable cities – are meeting and building on each other to create meaningful change in our time.

Click her to access the pdf mentioned above: Resources on Autism and Access to Nature

Upcoming Event – Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Here’s one more entry (and our last for a little while – lots of other stuff to be blogging about!) in our series on upcoming events:

Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Play brings families, friends and communities together; it keep us fit and makes us smile. Research shows that play is a key element of development and health for individuals of all ages and abilities. Unfortunately, play is being threatened on every front in the U.S. It’s seen as a “children-only” activity, if it’s thought about at all. Furthermore, concerns around inclusive play are primarily discussed among disability experts and are not part of most community agendas. Please join our nation’s leading inclusive play experts for a thought-provoking, two-day symposium that examines the importance of play for all ages and abilities. Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play will reignite your passion for play and inspire new ways to bring that passion to everyone in the community.

I would especially like to see Pamela Wolfberg’s presentation, “The Importance of Play to Children with Autism.”  Wolfberg is an Associate Professor, San Francisco State University and Autism Institute on Peer Socialization and Play. As you may remember, Tara Vincenta and I collaborated on a webinar this spring, “Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs.” You can read about it, and link to the webinar, from this TLN Blog post.

And to see a bunch more resources, in print and online, about play, children’s gardens, and the importance of nature for young people, visit the TLN’s Get Out and Play! page on our website.

Sponsored by Landscape Structures, the Play for Life symposium will take place on October 23-24 in Minneapolis, MN. There’s a discount if you register before September 20th. Visit their website for registration and more information.

And just after the symposium, the NRPA (National Recreation and Park Association) will be holding their annual congress (this year’s theme is “Connecting Communities”) in the same city, so if you can do both, go for it!

Now online! Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs

Since Richard Louv began his No Child Left Inside campaign, we have seen a wonderful groundswell around the importance of children experiencing the natural world. And at the same time, sadly, we continue to see an alarming rise in children with autism and other related disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children. This new number is a staggering 57% increase from 2002-2006. Clearly, we need more research on prevention and treatment options, but we also need more ways to help those children (and their families) on the “autism spectrum” who are coping on a daily basis.

One way that we can help is by designing environments that support children on the spectrum, including outdoor play and learning spaces. That’s why Tara Vincenta – Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and creator of the SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment –  and I were thrilled when KaBOOM! approached us about doing an online training on this very subject. We’ve had a great time collaborating and are happy to announce that the training is now available on the KaBOOM! website, and will soon be up on the SOL Environment and Therapeutic Landscapes Network websites as well.

The free online training is called “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Play and Learning for Autistic and Special Needs Children.” Here’s the description:

Join landscape architects Naomi Sachs, Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and Tara Vincenta, creator of SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment as they explore research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature-based play and learning environments for autistic and special needs children. Many of the challenges faced by autistic children are shared with a broader community of special needs children, including motor, neuromuscular, cognitive, sensory and communication issues, and visual and auditory impairment. Sachs and Vincenta will share ideas for creating outdoor spaces that allow children to play at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, FUN, nature-based environment that is equally engaging for any child.

Go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page to access the training, and if ours is not the first training, just scroll down until you see it. You’ll find other great topics there as well, and once you join KaBOOM (free, of course), you can access any and all. KaBOOM! is a wonderful non-profit organization whose mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities, and whose vision is “a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.”

You can also download a pdf of the supplemental materials – a list resources in print and online about this topic – from the KaBOOM website, and we’ll have those on our respective websites soon, too.

Many, many thanks to KaBOOM! (and especially to Kiva) for this wonderful opportunity, and to you, dear reader, for spreading the word (yes, that’s a hint).