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Understanding Autism – opening our senses to the great outdoors

April 8, 2014

Coetiroedd Dyfi WoodlandsUnderstanding the complexity of the human mind is something that man has grappled with for centuries.

Not long ago, conditions such as Autism were misunderstood.    People suffering from this condition were not given the support they needed.  In schools for example, children with Autism were often thought of as unruly.  In a society that often adopts a one size fits all approach, these children suffered.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex neurodevelopment disorder that affects people in different ways.  Some can find it difficult to relate to the world around them – feeling anxious when  surrounded by crowds.   Many find it hard to communicate and interact socially, and are unable to understand social etiquette and spatial awareness.  Behaviour that most of us perform instinctively – simple things like how close to stand next to someone on a bus stop, when to start a conversation or cross a busy road.  Many people with Autism can share an over or under-sensitivity to colours, light, sounds, textures and smells.

Space to Feel

In our dense and noisy cities our sensory experiences can be drowned.  I’m sure that we’ve all experienced an occasion where we’ve wanted to escape from a crowded street – to find a quiet space to breathe.   By contrast, the serenity of the countryside gives us a chance to feel at peace and to connect with our senses.

Exciting new project

Understanding how the environment affects the behaviour of people with Autism or suffering from depression is part of an exciting project in Aberystwyth, which is yielding positive results.

Working with referrals from Mind Aberystwyth, Coetiroedd Dyfi Woodlands – part of the Actif Woods Wales programme – provides outdoor woodland sessions and activities that are tailored to the needs of people who suffer from a range of medical conditions, including Autism. Activities at the woodland classes include recording the woodland’s diverse species, painting, wood carving or simply gathering around the camp fire to talk and rustle-up a tasty meal.

Building skills

These organic experiences stimulate the senses and encourage the participants to communicate in ways that feel comfortable to them, and most importantly, build their confidence.

The project and classes, supported by the Big Lottery Fund and Natural Resources Wales take place every week on a Thursday.   It’s testament to project’s success that some people have returned to the outdoor sessions every week for the past two years.

It’s not surprising perhaps that the tranquillity of the woodland environment should elicit such a positive response from those attending class in the great outdoors.

For more information visit: http://www.coedlleol.org.uk/

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