Nature Deficit Disorder is not a medically recognised condition but a proposed social phenomenon branded by Richard Louv, an author and journalist, who has spent his career examining the ever increasing gap between children and nature in the electronic age.
Nature has provided humanity with its fundamental teachings of life, as essentially hunter-gatherer genotypes, it can be nothing but fact that cognitive development and creativity has stemmed from the natural world and its exploration through the senses. As such nature has provided inspiration for scientific discovery, artistic masterpieces and literary excellence.
However, as a result of an increasing reliance on computer games and television as entertainment for children, they are missing out on the most intrinsic development and enrichment processes that come hand in hand with being outdoors.
According to Louv, Nature Deficit Disorder categorises the problems that arise in children as a result of a disconnection with nature. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a widespread mental disorder suffered by children in the developed world which comprises of patterns of hyperactivity and limited attention. It is becoming a concern for educators and parents alike. Additionally ADHD is increasingly being treated by strong and relatively untried drugs.
According to research undertaken at the University of Illinois, the severity of ADHD symptoms is correlated to the amount of time spent with nature. These results were rationalised by the fact that when studying or working, the mind has to pay conscious attention. Like a ‘mental muscle’ directed attention, as it is known, becomes drained with exertion. Involuntary attention recharges this mental muscle, this is effortless attention that includes noticing sights, sounds and scents that nature provides thus directed attention is rested and renewed and the capacity to actively concentrate is restored.
There are other reported symptoms that seem to arise as a result of Nature Deficit Disorder including obesity, asthma and vitamin D deficiency. Additionally it has been put forward that a limited vocabulary may arise as a result of not being awakened to nature.
The moral of this story is that the more time spent engaging with nature rather than virtual realities, the better physical and emotional health and ability to learn. According to Richard Louv, this could include playing in the garden or going for a walk through the park. These activities are small and unlike so many things in this world free, yet could have a powerful and necessary impact on every child.