There is a pernicious myth that being in nature can miraculously cure those affected by ADHD, or more specifically, executive dysfunction. There is something wholesome and positive about this notion. It is based on the belief that the main reason kids have attention deficits is that their lives have become harried and void of time spent in the woods, or at the shore. There seems to be a thread of truth in this perspective, but the severity and prevalence of executive dysfunction is simply too great to believe that the only cause is an overly urban lifestyle. By extension, it’s highly unlikely that nature alone will cure ADHD.
I find it extremely uncomfortable to make this argument because I am a staunch defender of time spent in deep nature. I believe such experiences are important for the soul. For as long as I have been able to read Thoreau, I’ve been a steadfast believer that nature always makes life better. That being said, when a society examines how to best address a behavioral problem, we need a perspective that gets beyond romanticizing to consider the science of a disorder.
We might agree that many young people affected by executive dysfunction would be less symptomatic if they had regular contact with deep nature. But what if that contact is not readily available? We need other options, and I don’t mean only medicine. What’s really important is a culture-wide conversation about attention. Many young people would be greatly relieved by this sort of dialogue. It bring the challenge of attention into the light, and helps us shift from a culture of complaint to one of constructive problem-solving. I’d be thrilled if these conversations could take place in the woods, or along the beach!