Creating a Safe and Healthy Home for a Child with ADHD

Americas, Built Environment, Universal Design, August 9 2018

child running through a sprinkler

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Helping Children Enjoy The Outdoors For A Healthier, Happier Childhood

AMERICA: Today’s children spend less than 10 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play according to the NRPA.  Greater access to screen time and parental fears about the dangers of unsupervised play may be partly to blame, but whatever the reasons, the consequences are serious.  The CDC reports a rise in global childhood obesity, teachers warn of lower concentration levels, and the military report fewer candidates meeting fitness standards. More than that, a generation of children is missing out on the joy of “inspiration and perspiration”; a neat title from the ICAA 2018.  The challenge for global thought leaders is how to encourage families to increase time spent outdoors, and how to improve accessibility so that every child can enjoy the benefits of being in nature.

Why “inspiration and perspiration” are so important for kids

From improved academic performance to reduced stress and obesity, time spent outdoors has consistently been proven to benefit cognitive, emotional and physical health.  For inspiration, time spent outdoors has been shown to boost creativity and problem-solving skills.  As for perspiration, even a gentle walk improves cardiovascular health, and exposure to sunshine increases vitamin D levels, leading to stronger bones and better mental health.  It’s clear that outdoor play brings many benefits, but how can we ensure that the opportunity is open to all?

Making the outdoors accessible

Short walks in nearby green spaces are a great place to start.  For children with visual impairments, exploring new textures or learning to identify different bird songs can be a real pleasure.  Feeling adventurous? The dilemma facing any parent or organization leader is how to get “off road” while still being safe. All-terrain wheelchairs can make previously hard to reach areas manageable, with the most recent invention even being able to access jungle or desert areas.  For something closer to home, a camping trip is an ideal way to bring children into nature, whatever their accessibility issues.  Many campsites can be reached by car, and providing care is taken with hazards such as guy ropes and gas stoves, camping can build confidence and memories for the whole group.

Can the outdoors be overwhelming?

A common concern for parents of children with ASD is whether the varying stimuli found outdoors will be overwhelming.  This will vary for every child, but a 2010 study found that in fact being outdoors offered many positive benefits to children with ASD.  Children who initially disliked certain textures such as grass or sand became accustomed to them over time and even came to enjoy them.  Further, a 2009 study by Faber & Kuo found that a short walk in a green space helped children with ADD/ADHD to perform better in cognitive tasks, suggesting that nature can help children to “reset” their minds.  To avoid overloading, allow the child to set the pace and explore the environment as freely as possible. Then let them process that information (by drawing, writing or talking about it) as they wish.

The benefits of time spent outdoors are numerous and well documented.  However, for those with accessibility issues, it can be daunting. Start closer to home with familiar paths and trails, and allow the child to set the pace.  You may yet have a budding explorer or nature lover to go adventuring with; seize the opportunity and let nature inspire you.

 

Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.

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