Camp Southern Ground is a camp facility that aims to help children to overcome academic, social and emotional difficulties so they can reach their full potential and provide them with the tools necessary to achieve excellence in all facets of their lives. The camp is located in Fayette County, Georgia, in the United States. While the camp caters to all children of any background, race or religion, they do particularly specialise in assisting children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), children with social or emotional special needs and also children of military families.
A study was conducted for the creation of a master plan to build Camp Southern Ground and aimed to examine how outdoor design elements benefit children with ASD and specifically, as well as how these design criteria can be implemented to inform the design of a camp or facility that serves children with ASD.
Whilst the scope of this facility is beyond what most institutions and individuals can offer, their design and facilitation of activities and therapies show what can be achieved to improve the health outcomes and quality of life for individuals with ASD in particular. The camp is also created on the principle that bringing typically and a-typically developing children together can be transformative for all children and encourage personal growth within a positive environment. These environments, activities and opportunities are ones that could relatively easily be adapted to smaller institutions.
The study began by analysing, reviewing and critiquing a number of other existing facilities to research which features would work best for enhancing the facilities at Camp Southern Ground. This research was done because there is very little data and research available regarding the impact of landscape architecture on children with ASD. The study took into account the nature of autism, particularly the characteristics of sensory processing issues that are prevalent in children with ASD, focusing on the visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, taste, vestibular and proprioceptive needs of these children. These key features of designing gardens to meet the needs of children with ASD have all been discussed in depth in our ‘Autism Gardens’ and ‘Sensory Gardens’ sections of our website.
The resultant master plan was developed based on the following principles:
- Sequencing of the site – Ms M Mostafa has conducted clinical research that shows how important site sequencing is, particularly for children with special needs. This study focused on making the space warm and inviting with a community feel in a circular layout.
- The provision of decompression zones – spaces were specifically designed to include soothing natural elements where water and reflection were the focus elements.
- The creation of healing gardens on a broader scale – the designers incorporated simple sensual elements designed not to overwhelm some of the autistic children with sensory integration issues. Separate spaces were also provided throughout the complex for sensory stimulation where needed. These spaces included a visual garden with an arts complex, a sound garden outside the music building, an aroma garden, a tactile garden, a taste garden, as well as vestibular and proprioceptive gardens as part of the adventure zone.
- Catering for a spectrum of experiences – the designers have used the ample space available to provide a variety of experiences that suit both typically developing children, as well as children across the autism spectrum or with other special needs. The experience of autism is an entirely individual one, with as many different variations as there are children with the condition. Their design has tried to cater to as many different interests as possible, from simple gardening activities to music, art, cooking, digital arts and environmental studies.
The design for the camp was site specific and shows, albeit on a larger scale, how careful examination of your site may provide opportunities for harnessing and enhancing natural features for the benefit of users. In this case, the designers made excellent use of the surrounding forests, lake and wetlands to enhance the experience for the children. Your own site may already have some trees, topographic features and orientation advantages that could assist you when designing your garden.
The information in this case study has been drawn from an article included in the Perkins+Will Research Journal.
Lipscomb, M and Stewart, A (2014) ‘Analysis of therapeutic gardens for children with autism spectrum disorders’, Perkins+Will Research Journal, Vol 6.02