Emotional Behavioural Disorder

The Special Education Needs Code of Practice (2001) considers children and young people to have emotional and behavioural difficulties if they are:

'withdrawn or isolated, disruptive and disturbing, hyperactive and lack concentration; those with immature social skills; and those presenting challenging behaviours arising from other complex special needs.' (7:60)

Horticultural Therapy can be used very successfully with children and young people who are experiencing difficulties maintaining  'acceptable' behaviour in school. Patterns of behaviour, long-established within the confinement of classrooms, are without context in the outdoors and students can be encouraged to try out new roles. With the different style and pace of learning that the natural environment offers, the opportunities to substitute newly acquired positive behaviour for previously learned negative behaviour are increased.

Learning and Teaching Scotland claim that:

‘well-constructed and well-planned outdoor learning helps develop the skills of enquiry, critical thinking and reflection necessary for our children and young people to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of life in the 21st century.’ (Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning, 2010:7).

Students with EBD have a profound need of enhanced support in meeting such challenges, as they have missed out on many of the opportunities available to other young people. The need to re-engage emotionally and behaviourally challenging young people is critical and, using Horticultural Therapy, it is possible to recharge students with vital emotional components such as self-belief and self-control, greater confidence and a positive outlook. Moreover, HT lends itself perfectly to the integration of  essential literacy and numeracy targets into the activities.  During the delivery of a horticultural programme designed for special education students in Hartford, Connecticut, USA, it was noted that students observably improved their

‘self-esteem, group dynamics and problem solving within the context of gardening in the academic areas of science, math (sic), english and history.’ (Airhart, Willis and Westrick, 1987:19)

In The Cost of Exclusion:Counting the cost of youth disadvantage in the UK (2007), McNally and Telhaj directly link youth underachievement with youth unemployment and ‘economic-related crimes’. The cost to the British taxpayer is huge, they suggest, in terms of the cost of unemployment and housing benefits, loss of productivity and youth crime.

‘This makes effective interventions aimed at helping young people become economically active extremely good value for money.’ (p13).

A programme of Horticultural Therapy can not only enhance the students’ emotional well-being and academic experience, but will increase the probability of them obtaining opportunities for further education and future employment.


Airhart, D. Willis, T. and Westrick, P. (1987) ‘Horticultural Training for Adolescent Special Education Students’ Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture [online] v2 pp17-22. Available from <http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED331192.pdf> [16 November 2011]

Learning and Teaching Scotland. (2010)  Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning [online] available from <http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/Images/Cfeoutdoor learningfinal_tcm4-596061.pdf> [15 November 2011]

McNally, S and Telhaj, S. (2007) The Cost of Exclusion:Counting the cost of youth disadvantage in the UK.  London: The Princes Trust [online] available from <http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/PDF/PrincesTrustResearchCostofExclusionapr07.pdf> [16 November 2011]