Living on a farm is working wonders for her son with autism, writes Hannah Reeves
I think farming has evolved in recent years, not just as a career opportunity or a way of living, but also as a form of therapy. It can provide so many areas of education and learning, and help children and adults with their emotions. It can also provide people with coping mechanisms when they are struggling.
For me, farming has been so beneficial to my son’s mental health. He has autism and choosing to learn in an outdoor environment has been 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 in his own time. He learnt how things are made and where they come from and the activities provided plenty of fresh air and exercise for him.
More recently, we took on a small holding farm close to where we live. For a child with autism, this can be such a positive experience. School, on the other hand, can be really anxiety provoking for pupils with autism – very institutionalised and loud – so providing children with open spaces, outdoors with animals and plants, can really help with their education.
Our son struggles with his school attendance and he 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 help calm himself down during potential meltdown episodes, and he talks to them about how he feels. He struggles to show affection towards people, even his family, but with animals he can really open up about emotions that he sometimes didn’t even know he had.
On the farm, we provide lots of opportunities for sensory learning, including planting in the soil, sand and water play, stroking the animals, and nurturing and tasting the different fruits and vegetables that we grow. There is also lots of open space to explore or to take respite in when our son needs some time out. The farm also provides education within all areas of the curriculum – for example, measuring out the animal feed for the day.
For children with SEN who either can’t go to a specialised school or are too anxious to attend any school, farming can be a great way of learning without the pressure that school can cause.
In addition, my son won’t socialise with other children; he doesn’t have many friends that he can play with at the weekends, so if he didn’t have this outdoor space where he can communicate with the animals, he would become a recluse within his own home. This is one of the key reasons why farming has been such a positive experience for us all as a family. It means we can work together as a team, each taking our own role on the farm, and it therefore gives the children some responsibility.
It also helps with relationships between the siblings, because when we are on the farm our two sons work together to do jobs, helping and bonding with each other. I think it is so important that siblings of children with SEN don’t always like a carer, or that they are left out in any way. I believe that a farming lifestyle has so many benefits for children with autism, and it provides a positive focus for the whole family.
About the author
Hannah Reeves is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.