Hoping to try new natural remedies to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Time spent in natural settings, so-called “green time,” measurably reduces inattentiveness in children with ADHD, researchers are finding.
And many parents agree. Nathan Miller is a typical 11-year-old boy. He plays outside for hours after school pretending he’s Indiana Jones, riding his bicycle, or running around with the other children in his neighborhood. Only when the streetlights come on does Nathan’s mom, Kathleen Miller, call him inside. Miller has no problem with Nathan’s long hours of outdoor play because her son comes home with fewer symptoms. “After being outside, he’s better able to sit and do a task without wandering off or looking out the window,” she says.
Nathan isn’t the only child with ADHD who seems to benefit from time outside. Traci Brown Heyland, from Portland, Oregon, says she also notices that her son, Caleb, 12, has better ADD/ADHD behavior after being in nature. “Expending energy outside helps him focus better and re-center himself,” she says.
Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a behavior researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has studied the link between environment and the mind of a child with ADHD. Citing the work of Rachel and Stephen Kaplan from the University of Michigan, Taylor delved into why nature has such a salutary effect on people with ADHD.
There are two types of attention, direct and involuntary, she explains. Direct attention is the forced attention we use every day to focus on housework, to complete homework, or to drive a car. Involuntary attention is effortless. “Some things naturally draw your attention, like a bird building a nest or beautiful foliage,” says Taylor. For those without ADHD, it is easy to use direct attention to complete a particular task. But for those with the condition, direct-attention reserves are smaller, she says, so they get depleted sooner.
“One way to support children with ADHD is to help them recover from that fatigue,” suggests Taylor. For Moms and Dads, that means giving your child a break from attention-demanding tasks and letting her roam outside in natural settings. Time outside may mean a walk through a park, or it can be more structured, such as playing soccer in an open field. Green time is more than just taking a break from work; it’s the setting of that break that makes all the difference.