Monika Uklejewska

Forest Therapy’s Breakthrough for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

She has a bright warm way of explaining herself. Monika Uklejewska is a Psychologist, FTHub Forest Therapy Practitioner and trainer. Her bond with nature cried out to come out again when she became a mom and understood how Nature could support children on the Autism spectrum, just like a Mother who gave joy and security, who soothed with her natural stimuli as no indoor therapy could ever do.

“Nature and the forest were not places I visited; they were spaces where I lived, an extension of my home. I spent most of my free time there playing with friends, taking walks through the woods, or seeking solace when I felt misunderstood. Nature has been my home from the beginning of my life, an integral part of it. 

“There came a moment in my adult life when I no longer felt ‘at home’. The existing systems no longer fit. Arrangements, relationships, dependencies, my roles. I felt that it wasn’t entirely mine. Unconsciously, as if on autopilot, I began to gravitate more and more towards nature.

“I felt and remembered my forgotten, deep relationship with nature. I would compare it to a chance encounter with a long-lost friend. A friend who knows, accepts, and embraces me, with whom I can cry and laugh, with whom I feel safe. Returning to nature was like returning to the comforting and loving arms of a mother. Arms where I felt safe and well. As if I had lost myself in the rush of life and rediscovered my backup copy there. I remembered my resources and felt very much at home. 

“I made the decision to nurture and continue this close relationship with nature. With the FTHub training I found more people who saw the forest similarly to me. It was as if we were all speaking a unique, common language there. It was a beautiful feeling of community”. 

Nature and Autism

“Initially, I wasn’t connected with nature in my profession. My first degree was in computer science and I also tried studying economics, but then I got pregnant and decided to dedicate my attention to my son and my new role as a mother. Shortly afterward, my daughter was born. 

“I felt that I wanted to do something new professionally. The universe didn’t make me wait long for a sign because my then nearly 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. It was initially a very difficult time for me, but the fight for his future quickly turned into a passion. It was incredible to observe how his development progressed rapidly through therapeutic interventions, and deficits were filled. 

“Fascinated by this process, I decided to study Psychology. Several factors led me to decide to become a therapist for children on the autism spectrum (ESDM method).

“I worked with sensory-sensitive children who found it challenging to connect with people instead of objects, especially in places filled with objects and stimuli. These places had artificial light, artificial materials, and a multitude of distractions in the form of colors, sounds, objects, and smells. It was after completing the training at the Forest Therapy Hub that I decided to combine both my therapeutic skills and my skills in working with the forest through the Forest Therapy Hub method”.

Soothing mother Nature

“Nature as a setting for therapeutic interventions for children on the autism spectrum seems to be an ideal solution. Why? The forest is an environment that soothes our senses, which has beneficial effects for sensory-sensitive children, providing them with a sense of relief and comfort. 

“Moreover, to have a learning process at all, certain factors are necessary, such as a sense of safety (here, the therapist plays a vital role, but the forest and nature definitely facilitate it), the appropriate level of arousal in the child (excessive arousal or distractions related to stimuli often found indoors can hinder the therapeutic process entirely), and, of course, the therapist’s interventions. 

“Children with autism often have several hours of therapeutic sessions daily, with therapy consuming most of their day. They spend most of their time traveling in cars to reach the therapy location and then stay in enclosed spaces where the sessions take place. 

“When I combined my knowledge of the impact of contact with nature on children’s development with my knowledge of ESDM therapy, it became evident to me that conducting therapeutic sessions in nature would be the ideal solution for children on the autism spectrum. I plan to further develop this path in the near future”.

The child who released emotions in nature

“Every time I work with people in nature, incredible things, situations, and discoveries occur. Participants, feeling safe and accepted, can remove the heavy armor they wear in everyday life and open up to the experience of nature and themselves. I would compare it to a secure attachment style between a mother and a child: the child can explore freely because it knows there is a mother who will respond to its needs, ensure safety, and be there when they return. 

“I particularly remember one experience in the forest with a group of children from a kindergarten. Among them there was a boy who had a difficult family situation. He was tightly keeping all the difficult emotions inside, not only disconnected from them but also closed himself off from experiencing beauty and joy. 

“During the time in the forest, something in him suddenly broke. He released his emotions through tears. He let go of what he had been holding onto for a long time. I created a safe space for him to cry, share his feelings, not be alone, and gave him acceptance and attention. 

“He returned from that forest as if he had just come back from a truly exhausting journey. Even his body and way of walking looked different. It was as if the tension had subsided, and his body could finally rest. And he could be a child again”.

 

Ph: Courtesy Monika Uklejewska

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