Speech Language Specialist Stephanie Boyd and Occupational Therapist Melanie Anderson of Manchester school in Ocean County were awarded a $3,339 grant to implement a life skills project focused on children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

In early summer, supplies will be ordered including three vertical hydroponic gardens with LED Indoor Grow Lights that will be used indoors to grow vegetables all year long. A Garden Tower (composting vertical garden) will also be used outside for certain fruits and vegetables that cannot be successfully grown inside. Various cooking utensils appropriate for students will be purchased. Boyd and Anderson will work collaboratively in implementing activities with both children diagnosed with Autism as well as typically developing peers of all ages in the school. Activities will be aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle and teaching children of all ages how to grow and prepare healthy foods for a healthy life.

Students can compare the crops of the indoor hydroponic garden versus the outdoor garden with soil to determine benefits and disadvantages to both. Activities will help develop fine motor skills such as preparing salads by chopping, slicing, and mixing ingredients with child-safe cutlery. Groups will also work on handwriting the recipes and creating signs to sell the prepared goods. Sensorimotor activities will also be incorporated by smelling and feeling the different textures of the cooking materials that the children are using. Groups will promote independence and skill in vocabulary. Typically developing peers will be partnered with the students in the autism program and help establish a routine together for caring for the vegetables. They will also work together in preparing and selling the prepared foods to the staff of the school. Collaboration between the students will occur regularly and will foster the needed vocabulary exposure and social skills practice that is needed by this population.

Vegetables such as lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes will be grown. Harvested crops will be used to create salads and help children learn to grow and prepare foods to promote a healthy lifestyle. An established master gardener program will provide support. A senior garden club will support the students in hydroponic gardening. Teachers and paraprofessionals will be encouraged to become involved and start similar groups in their classrooms. Students will donate prepared foods to food banks or families in need within the neighborhood.

For more information, contact:

Stephanie Boyd, Project Coordinator
(732) 350-4994 (school)

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