The Nature Deficit and ADHD

By Larissa Phillips

Mom & Toddler Walk OutdoorsMothers of small children quickly learn that the best cure for an out-of-control toddler is to hit the outdoors. But are you just giving the child more space to run around like a wild thing, or actually calming him or her down? It could be the latter: a recent study suggests that the great outdoors are as beneficial to children with ADHD as medicating them.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign followed 17 ADHD children on 20-minute walks that varied on a scale of “greenness.” Some walks were in the park; some were in a noisy downtown area. After the walks, the researchers tested the children’s attention levels using a standard neurocognitive test called Digit Span Backwards. They found that the children who had taken the greenest walks – through the park rather than through the downtown area – had the greatest concentration abilities.

So does our so-called Nature Deficit Disorder cause or affect our Attention Deficit Disorder? “What this particular study tells us is that the physical environment matters,” says Frances E. Kuo, one of the lead researchers.

In fact, it mattered almost as much as typically prescribed ADHD medication. “We calculated the size of the effect in our study and compared it to the size of effects in a recent medication study,” says another lead researcher, Andrea Faber Taylor, “and we were surprised to see that the dose of nature had effects the same size or even larger than the dose of medication.” Other studies, and parent observations, have confirmed similar benefits of outdoor play in natural spaces.

While the weather is beautiful and not too hot, try some Springtime Green Fun featured some selections from nature expert Jennifer Ward's book i love dirt! , which contains 52 activities parents can use to help themselves and their young children commune with nature.