The benefits of therapeutic horticulture for people with autism

The benefits of therapeutic horticulture for people with autism

Kevin Heinze Grow

The aim of this project is to evaluate Kevin Heinze Grow's 'Grow Model' and its impact on participants with autism. Kevin Heinze Grow will use the outcomes of this project to further improve and develop the Grow Model and the planning and implementation of our core therepeutic horticulture program across both our Doncaster and Coburg sites.

Read the full report here.

Kevin Heinze Grow are meeting multiple areas of best practice found in the literature for therapeutic horticulture. The following recommendations are offered to reinforce and expand these practices.

Community Building

Throughout the evaluation it was clear that Kevin Heinze Grow has built a strong community within and surrounding the program. Staff indicated a desire to use therapeutic horticulture as a community development tool to address climate change in the broader community. Evidence from the literature shows that similar initiatives have been effective in therapeutic horticulture programs. Given the level of interest and existing momentum within Kevin Heinze Grow, one suggestion could be to lean into this mission further, and for participants to have the option to become community climate ambassadors (or similar) as an explicit component of the program.

Length of Time in Program

Evidence from the literature indicated that positive outcomes from therapeutic horticulture are observed over time, and that familiarity with the program is key in facilitating, increasing, and reinforcing these outcomes. The evaluation found that Kevin Heinze Grow is providing a program that surpasses many of the timeframes reported in the literature, with many participants attending for multiple years and on an ongoing basis. Kevin Heinze Grow allows for long term meaningful involvement by participants and it is recommended that this practice continues.

Participant Inclusion
Inclusive practice emerged as a key element for therapeutic horticulture programs, and Kevin Heinze Grow is delivering a program that holds inclusion at the centre of its ethos and practice. Throughout the evaluation, multiple stakeholders commented on the integration of participants and staff to the point where they were indistinguishable from each other. This is a unique aspect of Kevin Heinze Grow, and it is strongly recommended to continue. The points provided below are offered as further suggestions and examples to continue and extend the inclusive nature of the program.

  • Participant involvement in garden design and program development
  • Representation of disability and neurodiversity in members of staff or board
  • Participant’s role in the ongoing sustainability of the program
  • Formalisation of participant preferences on language and identity regarding autism (e.g. identity-first or person-first language)

Sustainability is a key issue for therapeutic horticulture programs. The staff at Kevin Heinze Grow are aware of the need to make the program sustainable, and also of the tension between maintaining the integrity of the services offered as the program expands. Parents and carers noted that while having access to multiple therapy services within the program is beneficial, there was concern that the program could be stretched too thin if attempting to do too much. Funding was identified as a key issue. Kevin Heinze Grow demonstrated strategies for addressing sustainability, including a strong student placement program, a focus on education of the public on the value of therapeutic horticulture, and recruitment processes which emphasise the values of the program. The following points are offered as suggestions for furthering the sustainability of the program:

  • Formalisation of the structure and activities within the program, including documentation and dissemination of knowledge, guiding principles, and practices
  • Continued advocacy and education of the public, therapists and funding bodies of the program and benefits of therapeutic horticulture
  • Continued exploration of various funding opportunities (e.g. Community Grants)

This evaluation focused on the impact of Kevin Heinze Grow’s therapeutic horticulture program on participants with autism and intellectual disability. Other areas of interest emerged from the findings that warrant further exploration.

Focus on Sustainability and Expansion of Kevin Heinze Grow and Therapeutic Horticulture.

The tension between sustainability and expansion of the program while keeping the core values of flexibility and inclusion intact emerged as an important theme. Future evaluations could address the following areas:

  • Tension between delivering a therapeutic horticulture program with limited funding and wanting to expand the program to other groups
  • Comments from parents cautioning against the program covering too much
  • Difficulty of explaining the value and benefits of program to key stakeholders
  • What steps have been taken to formalise the activities and organisation at Kevin Heinze Grow for sustainability of the program (including further exploration of student placements and volunteer roles)
  • Research into the recently opened second Coburg site to confirm if similar outcomes are observed there, and observe how the program functions and maintains cohesion as it expands.
  • Evaluation of the “Grow on the Go” program

Another significant aspect of the Kevin Heinze Grow program is the commitment to values of inclusion, acceptance, and flexibility for participants, and key elements of the program which could be investigated further. Some suggestions for further evaluation and research could include:

  • Consider how the program is tailored to meet the needs of participants with autism or intellectual disability (beyond general practices discussed in this evaluation)
  • Investigate the impact of inclusion, flexibility and integration on outcomes for participants
  • Consider the role participants play in the sustainability of the program, and program development
  • Investigate the preference and use of disability language and its effect on equality and inclusion
  • Wider potential benefits of clients to the broader community including; potential services participants could offer in the community, and the benefits of contributing to a more diverse and equitable society