The therapeutic impact that nature has on children and young people with autism has received increasing attention and praise in recent years. This event at the Stepping Stones School in Surrey followed the launch this year’s Big Butterfly Count, Butterfly Conservation’s annual citizen science event that runs until August 9, so there is still time to contribute observations. Stepping Stones, an aspirational special needs school, took part in writing their own questions for the TV presenter, with students learning about conserving nature and different species of butterflies and other insects.
The school, developed and funded by the DFN Foundation, delivers world-class special needs facilities and high quality education, training, therapy and care to young people with learning disabilities and autism.
Its grounds include a forest school within a small area of woodland where lessons surrounded by nature are held for lower school class groups and therapy sessions for upper school students.
The natural environment setting enables it to play a big part in their education.
For children and young people with learning disabilities and autism this is regarded as a great way of releasing energy through low impact actions, decreasing sensitivity to stimuli, improving co-ordination and increasing activity levels.
During the Q&A the nature presenter was quizzed about different species of butterfly, the lifespan of the insects, and the butterfly’s importance in nature.
Packham has also praised the therapeutic benefits that comes from interacting with nature for people with learning disabilities and autism.
He said: “It has been great to engage with these amazing young people from Stepping Stones School following the launch of the Big Butterfly Count, giving us the opportunity to teach more young people about the importance of conserving nature whilst highlighting the huge therapeutic benefits that nature has for people with autism.
“From my own experience, I know the hugely positive impact that connecting with nature has for individuals with autism. It is very important that we continue to raise awareness of the benefits of being outdoors in nature for children and adults with autism. The Big Butterfly Count is a great example of how we can meet this ambition and get involved with nature in different ways.”
Head teacher Jacqueline Silver agreed, adding: “It was wonderful for our students to receive their very own expert lesson on butterflies.
“The nature here at Undershaw brings a lot of joy to our students and being immersed in this environment is highly beneficial for individuals with learning disabilities by increasing the students’ social interactions, communication skills and general wellbeing, while also helping to calm the mind and allowing our students to grow in confidence.”
The DFN Foundation, this year’s co-sponsor of the Big Butterfly Count, is a commissioning charity established in 2014 to make a positive difference to the lives of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Today its reach has grown to influencing policy and funding developments in special needs education, employability, healthcare and conservation.
Foundation chairman David Forbes-Nixon, said: “Stepping Stones is a great example of positively incorporating nature and education in an effective way that supports therapeutic wellbeing and development. This truly represents our passion and vision as a charity, bringing positive change, helping to unlock natural potential and build a more inclusive and environmentally conscious society.”