• Carla Hakim O'Brien

What can planting a Peony do to develop functional & life skills for a Neuro Diverse young adult?

I hear it time and time again. They are on the screens too much! I know it's not good for him, but I'm not sure what to do about it. School is online, and there is so little to do. As parents I think we often miss a key ingredient not only to helping our kids grow, but in giving them skills and a feeling of accomplishment. Simple self responsibility, life skills, and contributing to daily living in your home are fantastic opportuniities, living right under our noses! Out of love and yes maybe some conditioning, we do everything for them. The grocery shopping gets done, the meals prepared and put in front of them, the laundry, etc etc etc!


It's Spring and time to head outside to take care of your lawn, plants and maybe add a few new things! I personally have this dream and vision that Wisdom Spaces becomes this amazing space of beauty, and that the energy of love and connection from which that happens is all about working together with others, contributing and growing!


I am launching a new program called Life Skills Menu for the Neuro Diverse. This day a young adult with ASD, has come to "do" with me! I chose to plant some Peonies in the perennial garden by the cottage. He hadn't planted since he was little so he knew nothing, but he was game to try! Planting sounds simple, but there is so much to it! Here's what we did and I add the skill development that occured that day. Keep in mind it's about way more than simply planting!


We had to gather our materials, shovel, Peony plants, yardstick for measuring, and garden gloves. All of these necessary items were located in their "places." (organization, a space for everything, categorization.) At Wisdom Spaces, we compost great dirt from horse manure so we had to grab the wheelbarrow and shovel some "ready" dirt from the back of the giant manure pile! ( sensory and germ sensitivity). We dragged the wheelbarrow down the long driveway and up the hill to the garden. ( strength, balance, perseverance when we got tired.)

Then we had to read the directions for planting, how deep, how far apart, what kind of sunlight, etc. ( spatial understanding, following directions, organizing.) Next we looked at the garden plot and measured/planned our space, marked with a little dig of the shovel. (motor planning, organization, large muscle & strength dev, proprioperception development (shoveling, and math.) We opened the peonies and carefully and gently separated them laying them in each spot. ( sensory integration, visioning.) As we planted the first one, we had to measure how deep. (Following directions, organizational planning, sensory integration.) Our planting procedure was to use both the compost and the dug dirt. (Sensory integration, hands on desensitizaion.) On the first few plants he struggled with pushing the shovel in hard enough, what thing to do first, having our materials not nearby but instead scattered around the garden inefficiently. When I asked him to press in the dirt around the small plant to keep it in place, he struggled with touching the dirt but also in how much pressure to use to press it down. I didn't use gloves (on purpose) modeling a comfort and freedom with dirt, even dirt that was made from poop! I had to talk him through the steps on the first three, but on the fourth Peony, I suggested he tell me what to do. Then by the sixth one, he did it all himself. (Following directions, leadership.) As he watered them, he was now a young man who not only knew how to plant Peonies, but who had moved forward in his physical and sensory skills!


The lost opportunity for growth and connection that is so big in our kids' lives today from being on the screens has far reaching potential fall out. If you forced this young man to "go do" to get off the screens it would likely be arduous and fail. But this day, because we were making Wisdom Spaces beautiful for all who came here, and because we have no screen option, he grew in his skills in so many capacities. In addition, the inherent calming and grounding of working in wide open spaces in the dirt, was also very physiologically good for him!


Whether you choose to bring your kids here to do thing with me, or you step up your game of doing with them, the benefits are vast. I don't aspire to no screens, as they are a part of life now. But I do think we desperately need a balance in how we spend our time here.