Approximately 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011 statistics, accounting for 6.4 million cases nationwide. A majority are treated with stimulant medication often combined with behavioral therapy. For some, this approach is extremely helpful and leads to an improvement in quality of life and a reduction in risk taking behaviors often associated with ADHD. Not all cases, however, are successfully treated in this manner. Some will discontinue this approach due to its ineffectiveness or negative side effects leaving a void that still requires a solution.
Different approaches are needed to support healthy outcomes in this ever-growing population. Nature, or what in recent years has been referred to as vitamin N, may be one of the answers.
ADHD can be caused by various sources including genetic predispositions, neurotransmitter imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, trauma, and various other origins. Rarely addressed however, is the nature deficit that may be at the heart of many cases. Vitamin N is a low-cost, high-benefit, remarkably safe answer which has also been validated through research to support positive results in this population.
A paper published in the American Journal of Public Health discusses the use of nature as therapy for ADHD in great detail while also analyzing data from previously published studies. The intent of the paper was to determine if children showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms when participating in various activities within a green outdoor setting, which was defined as any "mostly natural area -- a park, a farm, or just a green backyard or neighborhood space."
The conclusion revealed intellectually interesting and intuitively validated outcomes:
...green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings. Findings were consistent across age, gender, and income groups; community types; geographic regions; and diagnoses.
In other words, children with ADHD had fewer symptoms when activities were carried out in a green or natural outdoor setting such as parks, woods, farms, etc., than they did when in outdoor human-built settings or in indoor settings.
Another study published in 2009 showed evidence that children are better able to concentrate and complete required tasks after taking a 20-minute walk in the park. These same results were not seen after the children participated in a 20-minute walk in urban settings. What if part of an effective ADHD program included supporting healthy levels of vitamin N through exposure to natural, outdoor, unstructured environments on a regular basis?
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder writes that a nature deficit centered environment may be contributing to children's behavioral and stress-associated symptoms and diseases. A majority of children spend very little to no time in an unstructured natural outdoor environment on a daily basis.
Could ADHD be, in part caused or at least exacerbated by, an imbalance between a highly-technologically focused, exceedingly structured fast-paced, urban lifestyle and a natural, non-structured, green, outdoor environment?
Intuitively, the answer is yes.
How can this information be applied to today's culture and environment?
Here's the start to a list of ways to bring your child's vitamin N levels back into the balance:
- Take a 20-minute walk outdoors before starting homework. Take a route which offers plenty of opportunities to view and interact with a natural and green setting.
- Add plants and other natural items to your child's study area.
- Locate your child's study area where s/he can see the sky, trees and other greenery while engaging in school work.
- Take frequent outdoor trips on weekends and holidays including hiking, camping, fishing, swimming and visiting nearly any body of water including oceans, streams, lakes and rivers.
- Enjoy bike rides with your child through nature trails in the evenings and on the weekends.
- Create a peaceful environment in your home with nature-inspired music, fish tanks and plenty of plants where your child can sit quietly to read and study.
- Take weekend trips to local farms, community gardens, botanical gardens, Community Supported Agriculture and "U-Pick" locations.
- Grow a garden on the patio or in the backyard. Teach them to plant and care for seeds or small starter plants. Easy to grow plants include flowers, mints and other herbs, radishes, lettuce and zucchini.
- Encourage imaginative play. Create forts, castles, and cities amongst the bushes and shrubs in a yard or a safe neighborhood location where they are easily monitored by responsible adults.
- Encourage your child in unstructured play including jumping in piles of leaves, climbing trees, and collecting bugs.
- Let them get their feet and hands into sand, mud, dirt, snow and water when in a safe natural environment.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." -- John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912