I think farming has evolved over time, not just as a career opportunity or way of living, but also as a form of therapy. It’s been shown to provide so many areas of education and help children and adults with their emotions. It can become a coping mechanism when people are struggling.
For me it’s been so beneficial to my son’s mental health. He has special needs so choosing to learn in an outdoor environment has proven to be amazing for him.
We, as a family, took on an allotment and taught our son how to grow fruit and vegetables. This enabled him to engage in sensory activities in his own space and on his own time. He learned how things are made and where they come from and is provided plenty of fresh air and exercise. More recently, we took on a smallholding farm local to where we live. For a child with autism, like our son, this can be such a positive experience.
School can be an anxiety provoking place to be— very institutionalized and loud—so, by providing that child with open space, outdoors with animals and plants, it can aid their education. As an example, our son struggles with his school attendance and suffers extreme anxiety, but when he is on the farm with his animals in a safe, comfortable environment, he is like a different child. He uses the animals to calm himself down during a meltdown episode and talks to them about how he feels.
While he struggles to show affection towards people and even family, but to the animals, he can really open up his emotions that he doesn’t even know he has. On our farm, we provide lots of opportunities for sensory learning, including planting in the soil, sand and water play, stroking the animals, tasting the different fruits and vegetables that we grow and lots of open space to explore or to take respite in when the child needs some time out.
The farm also provides an education that also complements all areas of the curriculum, i.e., measuring out the animal feed for the day. At school, children learn so much, but for children with special needs who either can’t go to a specialized school or who are too anxious to attend any school, farming can be a great way of learning without the pressure that school can cause.
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My son won’t socialize; he doesn’t have many friends who he can play with at the weekends, so if he didn’t have this outdoor space where he can communicate with the animals, then he would become a recluse within his own home. It means we can work together as a team and each take our own role on the farm and delegate some responsibility to the children.
It helps the sibling relationships because when we are on the farm our two sons work together to do jobs. This helps them bond with each other which is so important for a child with additional needs so that their sibling doesn’t always feel like a carer or left out in any way. It gives a positive focus for the whole family to work from. This is why farming has been such a positive experience for us all as a family.
This article was featured in Issue 102 – Supporting ASD Needs Everyday