There’s a little patch of green on Texas Boulevard in downtown Weslaco.
The morning sun lights up a beautiful courtyard that’s lush and green with oak trees and a small playhouse with hanging plants. It’s the sort of place of calm and reflection that Yvonne Reyes seeks in bringing her patients for therapy. Reyes, an occupational therapist, works to improve the focus, motor skills and sensory perceptions of her patients.
“Therapy is a whole body experience – mental and physical – and the elements of nature can reduce stress,” said Reyes, who owns and operates Sprouts Sensory Garden & Occupational Therapy.
The Weslaco native opened her business in 2019 in Mercedes before moving it recently to her hometown. Most of her patients are children with a range of conditions from attention deficit disorders to autism. Using gardening and green space as treatments isn’t new in occupational therapy, Reyes said. Yet, she adds, it is still outside of normal practices.
Reyes has a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Texas. She has worked at area hospitals and other health care facilities. Sprouts, however, is where “my heart is,” she said, and hopes to develop the Sprouts business into a full-time practice.
“I wanted to stay close to the Mid-Valley,” Reyes said. “I also needed office space with access to green space to try my ideas.”
Ideas Taking Root
Reyes has nearly a decade’s worth of experience in the occupational therapy field. She has worked in more traditional settings throughout her career with practices deemed to be more tried and true. Reyes yearns to do more and “try something different,” a place where “my ideas can go forward.”
Her ideas are taking root as Sprouts Sensory Garden. She describes how therapeutic gardening and outdoor activities can help a patient build improvements in following instructions. It can help them maintain attention to a subject, and be more talkative and engage others in doing a task. Green space therapy can help an active child slow down and focus on a task, even as the sounds of traffic or a nearby train coming through town compete for attention.
“Gardening takes a certain amount of physicality,” Reyes said. “You feel the earth and the plants, and that in itself, can reduce stress and improve focus.”
She alluded to that in a Facebook post on her Sprouts page where she described her patients mixing seed with soil, scooping and pouring into containers.
“We addressed sensory, fine motor coordination, visual motor for handwriting,” and Reyes added, it was “all outdoors, so calming that I know we addressed the psyche.”
She also has an indoor work space where she can sit with patients. Reyes combines more standard practices learned in her clinical work with innovative ideas of outdoors therapy in her efforts to help patients. She is enthusiastic in describing how she generally analyzes a patient’s condition in accounting for social and physical environments.
“What is that you want to do to help a patient?” she asks as a therapist. “Then you come up with a solution.”
The little green space on Texas in downtown Weslaco is finding some answers under the watchful and trained eye of an occupational therapist searching for her own space.