Like fruits that emerge from a caretaker’s plant, so too have a special group of students cultivating a garden that’s all their own.
The Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) at Cherry Ridge Elementary planted a garden Oct. 3. While they may have planted lettuce, cabbage, radishes, pumpkins and carrots, a more critical growth process took shape.
“We weren’t sure what the outcome was going to be,” said 4-H Youth Development Agent Jennifer Moran. “We had no idea it would have desensitized them the way it’s done.”
According to Moran and the TEACCH para-educators, Dawn Scroggins and Barbara Bridges, the students have improved their grades and communication skills, thanks to work in the garden.
Moran said first grader Gavin Fontenot, barely spoke before planting the garden.
“He’s more verbal now,” Moran said. “He is nothing like he was before.”
The eight children in the TEACCH program, all experience what is known as autism. Children with autism - about one in every 150 kids - see the world differently than other children.
It is not known what causes autism, but it can affect the child’s communication, emotions and sensibilities.
Children with autism typically keep to themselves and don’t communicate well with others.
The work Moran is doing with the children is known as a type of horticultural therapy. The idea is that taking care of a garden , it can improve their concentration, self-esteem and social skills.
In addition to opening up verbally, Scroggins said the children are improving academically.
“Third grader Ahmad Jackson’s comprehension level went up,” Scoggins said. “Fifth grader Morgan Thomas’ (Sidewalk) scores went up from a level A to a level C. In Sidewalk testing, going from an A to a C is big improvement.”
Thomas said after planting the garden, he looked forward to looking out the back door of his classroom everyday and watching the progress of the garden.
“We can plant everything,” Thomas said. “I’m planting cactuses today.”
Scroggins said one of the students, Darien Williams Brown, would not touch dirt before they began the garden.
“He’s helping his grandpa in the garden at home now,” Scroggins said. “It’s brought out his sensory and language skills.”
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Scroggins said since October, the children, “Put the dirt down, planted the seeds and harvested them three times.”
Bridges said after the plants were harvested, they prepared dishes for the children to eat.
“Dawn made salads and cooked turnip greens and collards,” Bridges said.
Wednesday, the children pulled up the old plants and planted new seedlings.
“Today we’re planting cactuses, lettuce, mustard and flowers,” Moran said. “Nobody understands the difference in these kids. It’s my passion to make people understand how intelligent they are.”