Natural Sensory Celebration focuses on neurodivergent people

Celebrating neurodiversity at Planting Fields Arboretum


Planting Fields Arboretum is gearing up to host its inaugural Natural Sensory Celebration, a weeklong event that will cater to neurodivergent people and their families. Scheduled to kick off on Monday and continue for a week, the event aims to foster a deeper connection with nature while providing a safe and inclusive environment for participants of all ages.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, an academic medical center, the term neurodivergent describes “people whose brain differences affect how their brain works.” While that can include those who have medical disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions, it more broadly refers to those whose brains simply operate differently from what is considered “neurotypical.”

Sarah Crowley, the director of learning and youth engagement at Planting Fields, expressed her enthusiasm for the upcoming event, and emphasized the importance of offering programming that highlights acceptance and celebration of natural sensory experiences.

“This event was created so parents and their kiddos can explore Planting Fields and understand that nature is safe, and teaching them to be aware of their natural surroundings,” Crowley said. “We want parents to know that your family can come here and you can feel safe, you can feel understood, and there is programming that respects you and understands your kiddo.”

The Sensory Celebration, scheduled to coincide with Autism Acceptance Month, will feature a variety of workshops and activities tailored to different age groups. Each day of the week will offer a new self-guided scavenger hunt, providing families with neurodivergent children the opportunity to explore the arboretum at their own pace. The even culminates in the Arbor Day Festival on April 27 and 28.

Participants can expect hands-on experiences that engage all eight senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing, vestibular (sense of balance), proprioception (the body’s ability to sense movement, action and location) and interoception (the ability to sense internal body signals, such as hunger). The activities will be designed to promote sensory exploration and offer a holistic learning experience. Crowley, who has a background in behavioral therapy, expressed her commitment to ensuring that Planting Fields staffers are prepared to support neurodivergent individuals effectively.

“We are definitely trying to take every precaution and study other museums and parks who have a similar mission,” she explained. “Our staff are taking the time to learn and understand different strategies for these kiddos who may have learning differences.”

In the workshops, children ages 4 to 12 will take part in nature-based activities such as garden exploration, nature learning, and exercise. Each child will be accompanied by a guardian, with community habilitation workers and therapists welcome to attend. Planting Fields is offering accommodations for those who require them, and encourages interested parties to inquire about group rates.

The event aims to provide an easy-going environment in which families feel supported and understood. Crowley highlighted the positive response from the community, noting that many families have already registered for the workshops. “It’s very cool to see that parents are signing up,” she said, emphasizing the growing interest in inclusive programming.

The Sensory Celebration aligns with Planting Fields’ broader mission of environmental stewardship and education. By embracing neurodiversity and an appreciation for nature, the arboretum hopes to create meaningful experiences for all of its visitors.

Participants will pick up the information for their daily scavenger hunts outside the Education Center at the historic Laundry Building, in the arboretum’s main parking lot. To sign up, visit For those seeking more information, inquiries can be directed to

As the arboretum prepares to welcome families for a week of inclusive fun, the Sensory Celebration promises to be a milestone event, setting the stage for future endeavors in promoting accessibility and acceptance in natural spaces. Crowley added that while this is the first event of its kind at Planting Fields, the staff hopes to host it biannually, in the spring and fall, going forward.

“This is brand new for us, and we’re super excited about it,” Crowley said. “We want to make sure we have specific programs that highlight acceptance and the celebration of the natural sensory experiences that you can get at Planting Fields.”