August 7, 2005
Ritalin and Dexedrine are the drugs of choice for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a recent article in Orion, from 2000 to 2003, spending on ADHD drugs for children under 5 years old went up 369 percent.ADHD has become the standard diagnosis for kids having trouble paying attention, listening, following directions and focusing on tasks. ADHD kids tend to exhibit aggressive, antisocial behavior and academic failure. Overstimulation, especially from TV, is a contributor to ADHD, says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” But instead of chemical treatments, Louv suggests a natural antidote that “could be as close as our own back yards.” Louv points to a 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health which found that “children as young as 5 showed a significant reduction in ADHD symptoms when they engaged with nature.”Kids who play in grassy back yards, parks and farmland differ behaviorally from those sequestered to indoor playgrounds and paved recreation areas. In the vast majority of cases, the outdoor kids experienced reduced symptoms of ADHD. “The only instances when symptoms worsened occurred in the artificial environments,” writes Louv. “Researchers have found that engagement with nature – including exposure to indoor plants and window views of natural settings – buffers against life stresses, which otherwise could aggravate ADHD.” The curative influence of nature, explains Louv, comes from engaging children mentally and physically in a natural way, consistent with how humans evolved over the millennia.”In an earlier hunting and gathering or agricultural society – which is to say, during most of humankind’s history – young people were more likely to engage in physically demanding, mentally relaxing activities that immersed most of their sensory receptors.”Even in recent years, the gulf between children and nature has grown. It used to be, says Louv, that “kids played ball in sandlots or spent hours building forts in tangled and wild ‘vacant’ lots. Their unregimented play was steeped in nature.”American culture today, he warns, has distanced children from the tactile experience of nature and has instead overstimulated them with techno-entertainment. The human brain responds negatively to the constant assault of high-tension video games, TV and movies.”The real disorder lies in the society that has disengaged children from nature and imposed on them an artificial environment for which they have not evolved,” concludes Louv. This alienation from nature results in diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.Contact with nature, as Thoreau knew, is essential to a healthy life: “Think of our life in nature – daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it – rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact!”Those of us fortunate enough to live in the Roaring Fork Valley have that all-important Contact! right out our doors. We can immerse ourselves in wilderness areas of forests, lakes, rivers and mountains.If our well-being is tied to contact with nature, then we need to pull the plugs on artificial, technological stimulants and reintroduce children to the natural world. We must also work for the preservation of natural places, ensuring that future generations have the same healthy opportunities we do today.Paul Andersen agrees with Thoreau that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” His column runs on Mondays.
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