Photo: Gerard McCarthy Photography
A Cork school is about to develop one of the city’s most important gardens as it bids to bring extra calm to the lives of children on the autism spectrum.
In a city and county necklaced with great gardens, St Mary’s on the Hill National School in Knocknaheeny may not be the biggest but it could well be about to have the biggest impact.
The school has already taken a major step this September in providing for children with autism by opening an ASD classroom and has a commitment from the Department of Education to fund other state-of-the art indoor ASD facilities at the school.
But such is the progressive nature of the north side school, its staff and parents that they have already embarked on developing a special garden for outdoors also, ensuring a wrap-around ASD support across the school facility.
A major fundraising concert to help build the sensory garden, which will cost €25,000, was held at the Rochestown Park Hotel. Aptly named Songs for Senses, some of Cork’s best known and loved musicians took part for free in the special event, including former principal Seán Ó Sé and Champagne Cork, a 40-piece group directed by staff member Ursula Mulvihill. Other performers included The White Horse Guitar Club, Karl Nesbitt & Company and Peadar O’Riada.
Explaining the need for the garden, School Principal Ger O’Donovan said: “Schools can be busy places and children on the ASD spectrum can become overstimulated in the hustle and bustle, so this garden would be a go-to location for them to calm and de-stress.
“Studies have shown the hugely positive impact these gardens can have on children. We are already well down the road in terms of providing for children with ASD thanks to our new class room but we wanted to create a recreational space for them also to complement that.
“Immediately we thought of the garden, which will be a special place for these children to go to. It will cost us €25,000 to develop but it will be money well spent and a lasting legacy for children coming here for years to come with ASD. It’s up to us as educators, parents and community to make sure we do whatever we can to make those challenging moments more manageable for these young children.”
Based on the experience so far with the new classroom, the gardens will be hugely beneficial, he added. “The new ASD classroom and its six students have had a positive impact on the school already. The class is called Tír na nÓg and from our perspective, they’re certainly our little stars.
“They’re full of energy and fabulous children. They came to the school through our early start programme, so to facilitate them to continue their education within their local school is fantastic. They get to stay with their siblings and their parents might also be past pupils of the school, so it’s great to be able to give this to the community.”
The primary goal of sensory gardens is the heightened interaction with nature. ASD Teacher Val Lynch said the garden will not only help the children but their families.
“To get the maximum use from a sensory garden in our school we will need funding to purchase elements that will appeal to all five senses for example; edible plants and a variety of brick, gravel and stone,” she said.
“A sensory garden will not only be beneficial to the pupils at St Mary’s but also to the families who may reap the advantages of their children being happier and calmer.”