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What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

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  • Written By: Kelly Waterman
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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Nature deficit disorder is a term first used by researcher and journalist Robert Louv in 2005 to describe a comprehensive expanse of behavioral and emotional symptoms experienced by children who do not spend sufficient time in nature. The biophilia hypothesis is a philosophy that suggests human beings are inherently drawn to and yearn for nature and other living things. Louv uses the biophilia hypothesis to support the validity of nature deficit disorder. The onset of the disorder is said to be triggered by indoor social isolation, limited access to nature, overuse of media and technology, and restricted free time for outdoor play and exploration.

Louv is an accomplished scholar, journalist and board member for several child- and nature-related editorial consultative committees and foundations. In his seventh book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv repeatedly addressed the issue of depriving children of access to nature and its detrimental effects on their overall health and well-being. His work is considered ground-breaking by many child development experts. Although it’s not yet a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), this does not exclude the possibility of its prominence in today’s society.

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The biophilia hypothesis suggests that all people are intrinsically linked with — and intrigued by — nature, including other human beings, animals, plants, trees and all types of ecosystems. With the saturation of technology and social media in our society, some children are less likely to spend time outdoors. This can lead to a breakdown in the vital link between humans and nature.

Researchers are discovering that indoor isolation and nature deficit disorder can often be tied to fear-based parenting. Parents fear for their child’s safety in the outdoors, and many lean toward rigidly structured indoor playtimes or safeguarded organized outdoor sports leagues. Nature deficit disorder is associated with childhood depression, attention disorders, behavioral issues and obesity.

After learning of nature deficit disorder, some parents choose to treat their child’s symptoms using the methods proposed in attention restoration therapy (ART). ART claims there are several levels of attention that any certain task requires, and those correspond to certain areas of the brain. When attention-keeping abilities begin to wane in one area, a time of restoration in nature is required, because it activates a different area of the brain. This gives the other areas of the brain a chance to rest. Alternatively, a simple method of treating the possible symptoms of nature deficit disorder is to allow your child plenty of free time for exploration and outdoor education in nature.

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