Does Playing Outdoors Improve ADHD Symptoms?
My daughter’s occupational therapist taught me that “heavy work” has a calming and organizing effect on kids with ADHD and sensory processing issues. And, I know from experience that being outside is therapeutic for Natalie.
The lengthening days and the melting snow have me believing that I just might come out of Iowa’s winter prison alive, after all. Natalie, who struggles to find outlets for her excess ADHD-energy during the winter months, seems to feel this even more strongly.
Starting about a week ago, when the daytime highs finally neared the freezing mark, and it stayed light past 5:00 p.m., Natalie began dumping her backpack inside the front door after school, and heading straight outside to play. Her relief at having outdoor time is palpable. (I often think the poor child was meant to live in a warmer climate — then I remember she was born in Russia! I don’t have to feel guilty about adopting her and bringing her to Iowa, after all!)
Natalie’s occupational therapist taught me that “heavy work” has a calming and organizing effect on kids with ADHD and sensory processing disorder. And, I know from experience that being outside — having the space to move her body freely, and the means to challenge her muscles — is therapeutic for Natalie. She seems to know this instinctively.
Here’s the “heavy work” that Natalie instinctively chose to help celebrate the first hint of spring weather: clearing the one- to two-inch thick layer of ice that covered two thirds of our driveway — not with a snow shovel and an ice breaker, but with a spatula. For an hour at a time, five nights running, she worked like a maniac, deliberately making the work as physically challenging as possible. Good for Natalie for coming up with such a creative way to make her mind and body feel better! But, embarrassing for me, as she insisted I work right alongside her. Here are the directions I learned by her example (Try this at home at your own risk of neighborhood mockery!):
Work a piece of ice loose by shove… shove… shoving the spatula under it. Use the spatula to pry it up until a section cracks off. Pick up the heavy hunk of ice, and slam it onto the concrete so it shatters into dozens of shards. Pick up the pieces one at a time, and put them into a bucket. When the bucket is full, empty it into a plastic dishpan. When the dishpan is full, carry it to the highest snow pile, and dump it on top. Repeat until your gloves are soaking wet and fingers frozen.
The neighbors and drivers of passing cars sure looked at us funny! (How stupid is that mom? Hasn’t she heard of teaching her daughter to use a snow shovel?)
Let ‘em laugh. Let ‘em shake their heads at their ditzy neighbor. Clearing the driveway was beside the point — which was, for Natalie, the “heavy” work itself, and the peaceful feeling that followed.
(And, shame aside, I have to admit, there was a point for me, too: seeing the progress we made with our spatulas was strangely satisfying! I’m kind of looking forward to doing it again next year!)
Happy playing outdoors to the rest of you! What is your ADHD child’s favorite outside activity?
Updated on June 7, 2021