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Living Well

Health and wellness tips from Indiana University

Living Well for May addresses the following topics:

Garden themes for kids
The increased risk for alcohol, drug and tobacco use by kids during the summer
My child has autism, what do I do?

Child gardening image

Photo by: Chris Meyer

Themes can help adults and kids create a garden the youngsters really dig.

Print-Quality Photo

When kids dig gardening. Would you like a sunflower house in your backyard or a worm tunnel to climb through? Developing a garden with a theme is a great way to get children involved and interested in gardening and can work with patio container gardens as well as in larger backyards, said Stori Snyder, assistant director of Hilltop Garden and Nature Center at Indiana University Bloomington. She said it is important to pick plants that all require the same environment, such as plants that require good drainage or full sun. Potential themes are limited only by the imagination. "Flip through a seed catalog and see what catches your eye, keeping in mind you want to avoid non-native invasive plants," Snyder said. "Is it the color that attracts you? Does the shape remind you of something, such a butterfly or a hat for a fairy? Do you want to try something new, like growing a giant pumpkin or tall sunflowers?" Snyder said themed gardens also can be enhanced with manmade creations -- such as fairy houses, painted plywood sunflowers that can double as child growth charts for the summer, water features and bird feeders -- that could encourage children and wildlife to visit the garden more frequently.

Here are some examples of possible themes:

  • Sunflower house: Literally immerse your child in the garden by planting a sunflower house. Alternate sunflowers and climbing plant varieties, such as morning glories (morning glories reseed themselves very easily so be sure you want them in the same place next year), climbing sweet pea or green beans. Mark out a square on the ground, including at least one door that is at least two feet wide. Plant the sunflowers approximately 18 inches apart and the climbing plant three-to-four inches from the sunflower -- one climbing plant is fine per sunflower, and even two per plant can be used but no more than two is recommended. When the sunflowers are at their highest, they will fill in the space between them. More "rooms" can be added or walls erected. The perennial chamomile makes a nice carpet. Straw also makes a soft place to sit. For fun, bring a book or take a nap.
  • Worm tunnel: For building materials use rebar or other strong round metal stakes, a stiff, rubber hose or bio-based plastic tube (no pvc) and netting. Decide how long you want your tunnel. Tunnels can also have intersections -- imagine a birds eye view of a lower case "t". Place two rebar or round metal stakes in the ground approximately three-to-four feet across from each other (tunnel width) and four-to-five feet from each stake to mark the tunnel walls. Leave two-to-three feet of the stakes above ground. Continue in this fashion for however long you want your tunnel to be. Place the stiff rubber hose or bioplastic tube over the ends of the exposed stake, making a "hoop". Use the netting to drape over the hoops, securing the net with zip ties or twisty ties. The remaining step is to plant peas, beans, morning glories or other climbing plant all along the outside of the netting. The tendrils will grow and climb up and over the netting, covering it completely. If you plant peas, you will also need to plant beans or morning glories or another productive grower in the heat of the summer. Mulch inside the tunnel as a weed barrier. For fun, start a worm bin to compost your food scraps, host an archeological dig and have party-goers dig for critters or play bingo using pictures of common soil critters as the playing card.

For more ideas, go here:

Snyder can be reached at 812-855-8808 and Top

Keeping alcohol-, tobacco- and drug-use risks to a minimim for kids during the summer. For children and teens summers can present an increased risk for experimenting with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, says Ruth Gassman, director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science. Children often are under-supervised without the structure of school, she said. They have more opportunities, such as at the public swimming pool, the beach, amusement parks or community festivals, to socialize with older kids who may drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.

"Adults who drink alcohol in public during the summer -- at picnics, weddings and reunions -- not only normalize alcohol consumption as a way to have fun, but also make it easily available to the children in attendance," Gassman said. "Soda and beer, for example, often are stored on ice in the same cooler."

Gassman offers the following considerations:

  • Parents should be conscientious about where their children are, what they are doing and who they are with during the summer months.
  • Adults should model responsible use of alcohol while participating in summer activities. Drinking beer while boating or swimming, for example, is dangerous and should be avoided.
  • Family activities should include alcohol- and drug-free venues, and parents should find out in advance if alcohol is available at summer events their children attend with friends or other families.

Gassman can be reached at 812-855-1237 and Top

My child has just been diagnosed with autism, what should I do? Approximately one of every 150 American children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but research and services are struggling to catch up to this rising rate, said Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center on Autism at Indiana University and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Autism Society of America. "When parents learn that a child has autism, they are dealing not only with fear and sadness that come with the diagnosis, but also with the confusion over how to proceed in order to support their child and family," she said. Below, Pratt offers suggestions on first steps to take following a diagnosis of autism.

  • Multidisciplinary assessment. There are a number of characteristics associated with an autism spectrum disorder, but no two children are exactly alike. Pratt recommends talking with a number of professionals to determine your child's areas of strength and difficulty. In most cases it is helpful to consult a psychologist and a certified speech language pathologist, who may also recommend additional personnel such as an occupational therapist, neurologist or psychiatrist. "You will be acting as your child's case manager as you put together a strong team of professionals," Pratt said. "Building on this expertise is essential in order to determine the best course of treatment for your unique child."
  • Talk with the school. Contact your local school district about obtaining an educational evaluation if your child is three or older. An educational assessment will determine your child's eligibility for special education and related services. Teachers and administrators can be among your child's strongest advocates, Pratt said, so sitting down with school personnel should be one of the first items on your agenda.
  • Find other parents. "You don't need to go it alone. Talk to other people who have experience with what you are going through. Other parents who have children with autism will be some of your best resources to find out what types of supports have been most helpful and what doesn't work," Pratt said.
  • Beware the Web. It may be tempting to search online for information about autism, but Pratt cautions that the Web is not always the best resource. "You really have to be careful online because there are people out there trying to sell you services that have no scientific basis. I would strongly recommend talking to other families about anything you discover on the Web," she said. One trustworthy resource: the National Autism Society of America Web site,
  • Adjust parenting strategies. "Once you have a diagnosis, you may realize why some of the disciplinary strategies you were using are not going to work for your child. It can be hard for parents to recognize that what worked with one child may not be appropriate for their child who has autism. It is likely that you are going to need a very different approach," Pratt said. She advises working with a team of professionals to come up with new strategies, but some of the common adjustments include establishing routines and structure, being consistent with praise and minimizing punishment, and acknowledging accomplishments, no matter how small.
  • Prepare for a long journey. "Parents report that autism is not a death sentence, but it is a life sentence," Pratt said. "You will be your child's life-long advocate, and you can expect many years of treatment, education and therapy to support your child's development. You need to be sure to take care of yourself along the way, taking breaks and making time for yourself. Don't be shy about asking for help when you need it."

Pratt can be reached at 812-855-6508 and The Indiana Resource Center for Autism is part of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. Visit the center's web site at Top

For further assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or , or Elisabeth Andrews at 812-855-2153 or .

EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.