An increasing number of children are being diagnosed with ADHD. In many cases the complaints are so severe that children are prescribed the Ritalin medication. A medicine with strong side effects and which is also sensitive to addiction. What could help reduce the need for medication? A green environment, or rather plants, appears to be able to play a role. Both where prevention and where reducing the symptoms are concerned.
Approximately 100.000 children are currently diagnosed with ADHD, or rather Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, in the Netherlands. The diagnosis is four times more common with boys compared to girls. Children with ADHD are so busy, inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive that they are suffering as a result of it. This unfortunately results in some alarming statistics where their chances of success in later life are concerned: higher sensitivity to addictions, a higher percentage of early school leavers and increased criminality. It’s therefore of the utmost importance to get to the bottom of every possible thing which can help and make a difference. Plants certainly form part of this. Research has shown that plants have a healing effect on our health. Just think about the improved air quality. Specific research into children with ADHD has shown that there are even more positive effects. Children become calmer, they become better at carrying out creative tasks and their general behaviour will be positively influenced.
Medication for ADHD
More than 40.000 of these 100.000 children with ADHD are given Ritalin. This medication makes the children calmer, but one in three children will experience serious side effects. Plus the medicine can also be addictive. It’s no coincidence the Dutch Medical Doctors Federation is deeply concerned about the increasing use of medication for ADHD. This is why trying behavioural therapy is now often opted for. The results of this treatment method do vary. It appears to be effective for a certain group of children, but it unfortunately doesn’t yet offer a solution for many others.
So what are the alternatives?
Even though parents are generally quite hesitant about the use of medication and will often go looking for alternative treatment methods en masse, very little research is currently going into the effectiveness of alternative therapies for treating ADHD. Dr A.E. van den Berg conducted research in 2011, commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation at the time), into the effect nature has on children with ADHD. The research included a comprehensive literature review, a number of interviews with experts and two small field studies. We felt the first field study was too small and not checked sufficiently in order to draw some real conclusions from this, but it did largely conclude that children with ADHD do benefit from nature, but that structure must also remain.
The second field study was minor too, but much more interesting. This involved a group of 16 children, all aged between 8 and 12.
The two different environment conditions.
These children had been given the same diagnosis and were presented with four verifiable tests in two completely different rooms. One very bare meeting room and an indoor garden. Their backgrounds were very similar too: they both came from a town and were not used to a great deal of nature.
F.l.t.r.: The children thought concentration was much better inside, a little better inside, the same, a little better in the garden and much better in the garden.
Almost all children preferred working in the garden, but thought they would perform better in a bare room. Their parents said the exact same thing. But the children working in the garden scored a convincingly better score with the tests which called on their creative ability. The meeting room enjoyed slightly better scores with tests which called on the children’s memories. Other research supports these conclusions. People who need to carry out complex tasks will do so more effectively in green environments compared to indoors. It also links into the Plant in the Classroom research, whereby children in a classroom full of plants scored much better where their problem solving ability was concerned.
Plants have a positive impact on all people. Companies, schools and care centres in a green environment enjoy higher wellbeing scores compared to institutions without any green. Green also had beneficial effects for children with ADHD. However, their need for order and structure does need to be considered. A forest is an excellent place to run off some steam, but it can also stimulate children with ADHD to such an extent that they become even more manic.
A green environment combined with structure probably has the most optimal effect for this group of children. Think about a green indoor area or a well organised garden. This will result in the required surveyability.
Most children with ADHD attend ordinary primary schools. Considering the number of diagnoses, virtually every Dutch classroom will have an average of one student with ADHD. An increasing number of school playgrounds and classrooms are currently being greened. This will undoubtedly also help lighten ADHD children’s symptoms too.
This is a very easy to read research and all conclusions indicate that it’s useful for children with ADHD to come into increased contact with nature and green.
Houseplants and gardens at home can also form an actual part of this. We would very much like to hear about your experiences.