Today I’m reviewing an older book that I recently read that pertains to the disconnection between modern society and nature called “Last Child in the Woods-Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv .
I had been interested in this book for some time. Having read blog posts and articles by Richard Louv, and agreeing wholeheartedly that it is imperative that we get children outside and connected with nature, I was interested in his take on what I do believe is a profound disconnect.
However, I am leery of people making up random disorders based on what they dislike about society. They are a very real thing that people experience. They present very real challenges, in many cases are disabling and shouldn’t be made light of in this way. That said, I wanted to give this book a chance.
What did I find in this book?
I found quite a bit of reminiscing, some interesting history on societal change, heartwarming anecdotes, and vague blaming of nearly all of society’s ills on lack of nature and increased use of technology. Some of it was interesting. I found myself nodding along in agreement. The ideas for reconnecting people with nature are good ones.
Yet I cannot possibly recommend this book.
There is also ableism and ignorance. One specific, most damning example being in the chapter: “Why the Young and The Rest of Us, Need Nature”
“The Rise of Cultural Autism In the most nature deprived corners of our world we can se the rise of what might be called cultural autism. The symptoms? Tunneled Senses, and feelings of isolation and containment. Experience, including physical risk, is narrowing to about the size of a cathode ray tube, or flat panel if you prefer. Atrophy of the senses, was occurring long before we came to be isolated from the natural world…”
Phrases that stuck out were, “tunneled senses”, “isolation and containment,” and “atrophy of the senses.” Oh Mr. Louv. That is so awful you get the Scully reaction gif.
My childhood was tough. There were two places I felt most free, going along with Sherlock and Watson on adventures (tucked safely in the public library) and out among the trees. My senses were alive and FILLED, not in the least atrophied. I’m still autistic.
I know many people are fond of a good analogy, a comparison of sorts,I am. However, writers must be responsible. When you make such analogies, with real lived experiences of real people, you actually also encourage stereotype. If your cultural autism is atrophied, experience less, and isolated/contained (not a part of the world), then so are persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. This is how Louv sees us? The thought he wishes to convey? I cannot believe he has much direct experience with the spectrum.
Aidan was in love with this old, still alive, hollow tree.
It goes on though, because then he also, very slyly not really saying, but implying that “nature deficit disorder” is responsible at least in part for the attention difficulties of children.
I have ADD diagnosis as well. Nature makes me feel happier, at peace, it eases my stress. It does not change how my mind works. One of my three autistic sons also has an ADHD diagnosis. The boy does so much better in handling stress when he has time to play outside. Guess what? When we come home from the park he’s still autistic. He still has attention, impulse, and learning retention problems.
How about my other son, who barely speaks?
The joy, the happiness being outside brings him, I cannot adequately describe with the written word. It hasn’t improved his talking.
Just because studies show that spending time outside increases attention, it doesnt mean that the difficulties are a result of not spending time outside. Non causa pro causa. (and, converse problems or as we like to say round here “ass backwards”) It is irresponsible to suggest it. I know ADHD is an easy thing to bash and blame on modern life. I know too that autism is newsworthy, catchy thing that many people wish they understood the mechanism of. However, it is irresponsible to hint around that all we need is more time outside, or that our home and school environment is creating these problems, especially when the person doing the hinting doesn’t appear to really understand either neurological condition.