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The NatureBrain approach to neurodiversity in Occupational Therapy is a form of nature therapy, also referred to as ecotherapy and involves three key phases:

1)  Establishing Roots. 


2)  Branching Out.  

3)  Sustaining Outcomes.

Occupational Therapy
Phase 3:  Sustaining Outcomes
(Follow Up)
We sustain positive outcomes by offering information, education and support within the child's circle of belonging, including their families, care  providers and schools. This helps to maintain continuity and supports ongoing social-emotional development. 
Phase 2:  Branching Out 
(Therapeutic Intervention)
 Playful and sensory rich nature-based interventions expand awareness and inspire exploration and creativity.  Interventions harness nature's elements and are activity based as well as uniquely tailored to each child based on their interests and growing strengths. These activities are designed to build skills within the area of social emotional learning and development including self awareness, social awareness, self management (e.g. emotional regulation)
decision making, and relationship skills.

Phase 1: Establishing Roots 
(Baseline Assessment)
We emphasize strengths and 'growth edges' rather than deficits and limitations and obtain a baseline indication of each child's social emotional skills, sensory experience,  play behaviours and quality of interactions through a mix of standardized assessment and observation. Based on this information we work together to set therapy goals.
Our intention is to better understand each child’s unique experience of the world including how they relate and interact with people and other living things (wildlife, plants, animals) and to
cultivate a sense of security
and belonging through nature connection and 
the therapeutic relationship
Establishing Roots
The therapy process begins by Establishing Roots with children and youth outdoors, in nature and with animals.  This involves developing each child’s sense of personal safety and belonging in a welcoming but continuously changing natural environment.   Nature provides a landscape that allows for shared experiences regardless of differences and nurtures a sense of belonging.
The innate connection our species has to the natural environment can be shared in a somatic experience that helps to restore emotional connection to place, creating a feeling of a safe and reassuring environment in which to learn and grow. It also allows for the nourishment of sensory development and embodiment at the pace of the individual. As the tones and sounds are often more muted in nature, sensory experiences can be more comfortable and even more familiar intuitively. 

We draw upon nature's elements and interactions with wildlife and other animals to support the process of co-regulation and self regulation as a basis for personal growth.  Opening/closing routines and rituals  help to establish roots and a secure base from which to explore the natural world by offering some predictability and containment.  These strategies are trauma informed and enable the child to stay within their window of tolerance for new experiences and optimize their potential for learning, healing and development.

Branching Out
We then work creatively to help the child to Branch Out  of their comfort zone and expand their awareness through nature based activities and equine experiences that offer 'just the right challenge.' Models of human occupation in Occupational Therapy, sensory processing, and activity analysis guide this process, The EPI model further informs how we relate to horses and include them as partners in therapy.  This process of branching out offers opportunities to strengthen connections (to self/other), bridge inner and outer 'landscapes'
( interoceptive/exteroceptive experience) and ultimately build relationships that promote social-emotional health, wellbeing and resilience.

Branching out typically begins by directing the child's attention to the outer landscape and building rich sensory awareness of smells, colours, textures, and sounds in the natural environment.  This becomes the foundation for building the skills necessary for increasing awareness of the inner landscape including thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations (Harper, Rose & Segal, 2019) from which nature therapy approaches, and psychotherapy models and techniques (e.g. ecotherapy, Gestalt Therapy, the EPI model, trauma therapy, somatic experiencing, CBT) further guide the process.

For younger children the primary medium is free nature play, in relationship, where we follow the child's lead, inquiring into their subjective experience as we go and gently guiding their attention in ways that expand  their connections and relationships to world around them across sensory, cognitive and emotional domains.  The natural landscape supports embodied cognition  where knowledge and representations of  concepts  are a direct result of physical experiences.

Guided interactions with  the natural world becomes the basis from which we can influence the mind and body and create opportunities that promote whole- child development.  This may involve unstructured or structured activities that target the development of specific social-emotional skills and behaviours such as i
dentifying emotions (emotional,) taking others perspectives (social awareness), using planning and organizational skills  and problem solving (cognitive).  For older children and youth guided experiences in nature and with horses can inspire new insights, that in turn shift perspective and behaviour.  

Sustaining Outcomes
We Sustain Outcomes  by nurturing relationships and community partnerships, and offering information, education, and support specific to the NatureBrain Apporach to Neurodiversity within the child's circle of belonging, including their families, care  providers and schools, and others. 

© ConnectByNature Therapy & Learning Services  2022 

ConnectByNature Therapy & Learning Services  2022  

Reference: Harper, K., Rose, K.,& Segal, D.(2019). Nature-Based Therapy. A Practitioner's Guide to Working Outdoors with children, youth and Families. New Society Pubishers. Canada.

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