Tag Archive | autism

Freedom Park

On September 22, 2012, I had the honor of being part of one of the biggest volunteer projects in the history of our province, as more than 400 volunteers showed up at my school to build an entire park in one day!

(Some of the HUNDREDS of volunteers)

Freedom Park, located on the grounds of Jamieson Academy, Salt Pond, encompasses a state of the art playground, an outdoor classroom, a walking trail with a gazebo, and a Sensory Garden.  The Sensory Garden was MY baby, and I am so proud of how my team of volunteers worked together to make my vision a reality.

(An awesome team!)

When the playground committee invited me to consult on this project, I was a little hesitant.  Even though I had recently completed a landscape design course, I had never actually worked in this field.  This was a monumental project, and I was afraid that I may have bitten off more than I could chew by taking this on as my very first official project as a professional garden designer.  However the lure of the project was more than I could resist!

The lure for me was not just the opportunity to design a garden, but the committee was looking specifically for a garden designed with Autistic children in mind.   I have been gardening with my Autistic son, Ben, from the time he was big enough to hold a seed, and I have witnessed the many therapeutic benefits of gardening with children like him.   I saw this as a unique opportunity to help Ben and other children like him to fully experience nature through their senses.

People with Autism, experience the world through their senses differently than others.  Sounds that may seem loud to us, can be physically painful to them, thus causing them to cover their ears.

(The soothing sounds of trickling water and whispering winds through the grass.)

Children with Autism have a reputation of being “picky eaters”.  This is largely due to a sensitivity, not just to strong flavours, but also to different textures of foods.

(Children are invited to taste the mildness of lettuce to the sharp tastes of sage and thyme)

You may have seen people with Autism flicker their fingers, or pieces of paper in front of their eyes.  They do this to self-stimulate through their visual sense.  In general, they take pleasure in visual sensations.

(Bright colors to stimulate the visual sense.)

While Ben is under-sensitive to touch, and craves the deep pressure of a good, strong hug, many children with Autism have an over-sensitive tactile sense, and do not like to be touched at all.

(A variety of textures, from the velvety smooth feel of lamb’s ear, to the rough feel of chicks-n-hens)

Like the closely linked sense of taste, the sense of smell is often super sensitive in children with Autism.  I have seen these children literally gag at smells that I might find only mildly offensive.

(Pleasant smells such as lavendar, and the citrus smell of marigolds delight the sense of smell)

The Sensory Garden at Freedom Park was designed with all of these things in mind.   My prayer to the spirits of nature was that I be guided to create a setting for these children in particular, which would be both stimulating and soothing to their senses.   I thank the playground committee, and Mr. Ian Hill (Let Them Be Kids Foundation) for providing me with this blessed opportunity.

(Me and Ben)


Perk # 72: Families United

Ben with his British sister, Faye (left) and his Canadian sister, Kaitlyn (right).

While at the cancer clinic last week awaiting my radiation treatment, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman whose positive attitude shone through despite her stage four diagnosis.   Somehow the conversation came around to my blog (aaahem,  I’m not sure how that keeps happening), and she was kind enough to share a perk with me.   Sitting in a wheelchair with her mother by her side, she beamed as she told me about her three children, and about how cancer seemed to bring her whole family closer together.   As ugly as cancer is, I thought, it is beautiful how it can unite families in time of need.

My biggest fear when I learned that I had cancer was that my children might be left without a mother.   This fear was magnified for Ben, as he is my youngest, he has autism, and his family spans two continents.   My two older children are technically his “half” brother and sister (although I do not allow that term in my house, as there is no such thing as halves when it comes to sibling love).  He also has three “half” sisters in England from his father’s side of the family.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing Ben’s joy as he was reunited with his British sister, Faye.   She was kind enough to leave her family for two weeks to help her father take care of Ben while I was away having treatments.  Although Ben is a boy of few words, I could tell by how his face lit up that he and Faye share that special brother-sister bond despite not growing up together.  I am so grateful that even the broad Atlantic cannot keep this family from uniting in a time of need.   It also gives me great comfort to know that when I do leave this world, at around the ripe old age of 90, Ben will continue to be loved and looked after.

Tip:  Cancer has a way of bringing families together.  If you are separated or estranged from someone in your family, reach out to them in your time of need.

Perk # 28: Having Cancer Has Revealed To Me A Whole New Side Of My Autistic Son

My six year old son, Ben, has Autism.  While he is bright, his verbal skills are very limited.  Generally, he talks only enough to express his basic needs.  At this point, meaningful conversation with Ben is not possible.

While he says very little, Ben recently learned to use the computer to express himself.  Several times  since I have been diagnosed with cancer, he has surprised me by bringing me type written notes (done without prompting) with messages like:  “Dear Mom, you are nice” and “Dear Mom, I love you.”  Sometimes I will find his notes lying around the house, with messages such as, “Mom is sick”, or “Mom is hurt.”

On a rare occasion, Ben will catch me off guard by speaking a full, meaningful sentence.  Never was I more surprised than one night while putting him to bed, when he said to me, “Good night. Guardian angels watch over you and protect you.”   Some might say he was just echoing something he had heard me say a hundred times before.  True.  But the miraculous part is that it is the one and only time I heard him speak those words, and it happened to be on the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ben may look like he is “in a world of his own”, but these gestures prove to me that he is a sensitive boy who is very much aware of what is happening in my world.

Tip:  Not everyone is great with words.  Just because someone cannot tell you how they feel when you are sick does not mean they don’t care.