“Mother Nature: The ADHD Therapy That Works Best”
Starting a garden was the therapy my son needed for his ADHD defiance and inattention. Something is growing outside our house, and it isn’t just the seeds.
He is six, and his ADHD is coming into its own.
It’s the type that you don’t want to share with strangers and some friends, knowing that if you tell them, you’ll get an eyeroll and a suggestion for a good hard spanking. But August does not need a spanking. August does not need to be yelled at, berated, or harassed.
We are having difficulties, though, he and I. We are homeschooling kindergarten, and things sometimes (often) don’t go as planned. If August is interested, he’s engaged, enthusiastic, a model student, brimming with questions and seated at the school table after his brothers have drifted away.
But, as I try to explain to people, one characteristic of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is difficulty making yourself do things you have little motivation for. Basically, it’s really, really, really hard to do what you don’t want to do, Especially if you’re six. Especially if you have some hyperactive tendencies. Especially when you’re at home and surrounded by distractions like toys and dogs and brothers. Unfortunately for August, those things he has little motivation for sometimes include math. It often includes writing, basic, put-the-pen-on-the-page-and-write-the-letter writing. These are kindergarten cornerstones.
When August doesn’t want to do these things, he throws down. He whines. He slithers down in his seat. He stares at his paper or the computer screen for 15 minutes at a time. His whining gets louder, and he swears he can’t do it. So I go over to help him. This ends with me gently coaxing, which he takes as yelling (which isn’t), and my getting frustrated and actually yelling (not proud of that), and him crying. And the vicious cycle continues.
The other day, I was reading him a graphic novel of Aphrodite for social studies. I realized suddenly that he hadn’t been paying attention for pages. I quizzed him on what had been happening. He had no idea. Despite having ADHD myself, despite knowing he’s prone to zoning out, I dropped the book and walked away.
I felt our relationship was deteriorating. He didn’t seem to want to be around me. That is, until we started planting for the year.
August loves the natural world. Most kids do, but ADHD kids seem to have a special affinity for it. As an article in ADDitude Magazine titled “The Ultimate Natural Treatment” says, “Who can resist the appeal of a natural ADHD remedy? You don’t need to. Go ahead: Open your door, take a breath of fresh air — and treat yourself right with Mother Nature herself.” The article follows with a long list of anecdotal evidence from readers attesting to how much time outdoors in nature helps their ADHD kids.
The magazine also interviewed researcher Francis Kuo, who said that while researchers were confident that “brief exposure to nature” helped improve memory and impulse control, they wondered if the same held true for kids who played in the same setting regularly — their backyard, say. They found: “Those who play regularly in the same green outdoor settings do have milder symptoms than those who play indoors or in playgrounds.” Psychology Today lists study after study proving that children with ADHD have a reduction of symptoms after spending time in Mother Nature.
We didn’t do it on purpose. August seemed to gravitate toward the garden. He helped me plant; he helped me start seeds. He watered the plants for me religiously to the point that I began giving him an allowance to do it twice a day. While he spent some of his time in the backyard playing, he was often at my side: talking, pointing out what had sprouted, what was being eaten by slugs, what was being eaten by the dogs (and then helping me move said pepper plants). He was as excited by my bean sprouts as I was. He got dirty. He helped me pick out where to put my stepping stones and spotted the first of my oregano seedlings.
He was a different child. Not sullen or angry, but funny, loving, capable, helpful, and chatty — and he has never been a chatty kid. He searched for toads, then searched for worms to feed the toads he’d caught. He is so happy outside. He is so happy in our garden.
Now, I march him out in his pjs before school, so we can survey our terrain. His writing has improved, or, at least, it’s become less of a battle. He still isn’t a giant fan of math, but he doesn’t cry as much as he did before. When he gets upset, he cries: He isn’t defiant or angry. He doesn’t fight with me. He asks for help. He says, “Mama, I can’t do this.” And anyone who’s dealt with a defiant ADHD kid knows what an enormous difference this is.
The garden has helped him. The garden was the therapy he needed. Sure, we have a long way to go. Sure, this isn’t a cure-all. But the garden has been a tremendous help. Something is growing here. And it isn’t just the seeds.