Richard Louv, who suggests that many of us suffer from ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’, believes that there’s a link between how kids are raised and ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ (ADHD). There’s some evidence to support his suggestion. Research suggests that every hour of daily TV watched by preschoolers increased their likelihood of developing symptoms of attention deficit disorders by 10 percent (Christakis et al, 2004).
I’ve written elsewhere about my distrust of psychiatric diagnosis, but there’s no question that increasing numbers of children are experiencing impulsivity, hyperactivity, lack of focus, low self-esteem and aggressive behavior: The diagnosis of children with ADHD increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 11.0% in 2011-12 (US data).
Nature connection seems to help; whether kids play indoors or out has a significant impact on ADHD. Researchers from the University of Illinois found that “children who played in windowless indoor settings had significantly more severe symptoms than children who played in grassy outdoor spaces”. The authors conclude that “contact with nature is systematically related to lessened attention deficit symptoms” (Taylor et al., 2001).
The University of Illinois research was inspired by Attention Restoration Theory, as developed by environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). Attention Restoration Theory proposes that natural phenomena like birdsong, trees, or the gentle sound of a stream are restorative because they give our thinking minds time to rest.
Mindfulness is also useful for alleviating the symptoms associated with ADHD. Psychiatrist Lidia Zylowska led the first study of how mindfulness training might help with ADHD and I’ve found her book on this subject useful in my client work (Zylowska, 2012). Recent research has supported her initial findings, concluding that mindfulness meditation “is efficacious in reducing symptom load in adult ADHD” (Hoxhaj et al., 2018).
Given that both mindfulness and nature connection have been shown to help with ADHD, I’m drawn to wonder what might happen if we combined the two. Crucially, this isn’t just adding one to the other: I’ve argued elsewhere that practicing mindfulness in nature, as compared to indoors, creates a synergy between two powerful sources of healing (Harris, 2016). To my knowledge, no-one is pursing this avenue of research so I’m putting it out there in the hopes that I can attract some interest. Watch this space!