Background A link has been suggested between children's disconnection from nature and the recent surge in childhood disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Research on benefits of nature for healthy children provides some support for such a link. However, only a few studies have directly examined the influence of contact with nature on children with ADHD.
Aim The aim of the present research was to gain more insight into the behaviour and emotional and cognitive functioning of children with ADHD in a natural and built setting.
Methods Two groups of six children (age 9–17) who stayed at care farms for children with ADHD in the Netherlands were systematically observed, questioned, and tested during visits to a wooded area and a small town.
Results Both groups performed better on a concentration task in the woods than in the town, despite the fact that all children visited the town after the woods and thus their scores in the town were possibly inflated by learning effects. However, the behaviour and emotional functioning in the two settings differed between the groups. One group of children liked the woods better than the town and displayed more positive behaviours and feelings in the natural environment. The other group of children liked the town equally well as the woods and displayed positive behaviours and feelings in both settings, although they showed somewhat more non-social, aggressive, inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive behaviour in the town than in the woods.
Conclusions These results suggest that natural areas provide a consistent positive environment for children with ADHD. However, more research is needed to obtain a fuller understanding of the influences of the physical environment on children with ADHD.