Specialized Wilderness Camps Help Kids with ADD Get "Green Times"

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Wilderness therapy programs have noticed for years the positive impact of green time on children with ADHD.

having a tree outside your window can improve concentration and effectiveness. If just looking at a tree helps, imagine what a summer in the wilderness could do?

Jon Worbets has been taking children with Attention Deficit Disorder camping in the wilderness for thirteen years. Based on his experience, he believes that being outdoors "profoundly impacts these kids. They seem calmer, more focused, and more able to follow through, rather than just acting on their impulses."

Worbets is a therapist who works at the SUWS Wilderness Program in Shosone, Idaho. SUWS provides summer camps and wilderness experiences for children with special needs.

Worbets believes that experiencing the calmness and quiet of nature seems to reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Now new research backs up his observations.

According to scientists at the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, all children benefit from "green time," but wilderness settings benefit ADD children in particular.

"We knew from our own studies and those of other scientists that in general, green is good. For ADHD kids however, green is great," said Professor Frances E. Kuo, co-director of the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Dr. Kuo and her cohorts concluded that the more wilderness-like the setting, the more benefits to children with ADD. For example, playing outside in a paved basketball court was not as beneficial as walking through a forest or going to the beach.

The research team kept track of over 400 children and found that after they spent time in natural settings, they were calmer and better able to concentrate, and had less trouble completing tasks and following directions. Parents reported their children slept better at night if the day included time in nature. Wilderness settings had the most dramatic effect in reducing symptoms, but just being outdoors helped.

This kind of research puts pressure on parents of children with ADHD to allow for "green time." However, that is not easy. As Worbets and other therapists can attest, children with this disorder are too distractible and impulsive to roam freely outdoors without adult supervision. Their fearlessness makes them take risks others would avoid.

For this reason, Worbets says, the ratio at SUWS of staff to children is only 1:4. Children go out into the Idaho wilderness closely supervised by trained therapists who use Applied Behavior Analysis and other techniques to ensure that the children maintain and gain more skills during the summer months. Even as these children benefit from being outdoors, they also benefit from a clear structure with rewards and consequences, strenuous exercise, good diet, and life skills training.

Worbets attributes the positive changes he sees in these children mostly to the wilderness experience itself. "Within a few weeks they are calmer. They often begin to communicate openly and clearly about what they need, demonstrate sustained focus, and learn to follow through on tasks. I am in awe of the remarkable changes that can happen so quickly."

Worbets points out that the University of Illinois researchers have shown that "having a tree outside your window can improve concentration and effectiveness. If just looking at a tree helps, imagine what a summer in the wilderness could do?"

To learn more about SUWS Youth & Adolescent Programs visit http://www.SUWS.com/adhd or call 888.879.7897.

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Kathy Rex
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