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Gunnar Oland Aasen

Department of child and adolescent mental health, Soerlandet hospital HE, Kristiansand, Norway

Gunnar is a specialist psychologist and outdoor therapist at the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at Sørlandet hospital HE in Kristiansand, Norway.

He has been instrumental in the development of friluftsterapi for youth over the last decade, and is presently involved in the adaptation of friluftsterapi as a preventive strategy in schools. Gunnar is also actively engaged in developing nature-based approaches to working with families, with a particular interest for father-son interventions.

Perhaps some of you will recognise him as one of the organisers of the previous 9th International Adventure Therapy Conference/3rd Gathering for Adventure Therapy in Europe (9IATC/3GATE) in Norway in June 2022. 

Gunnar Oland Åsen - Carina Ribe Fernee.JPG

Where wild things grow: Friluftsterapi as a preventative, health promoting, and sustainable method for children with neurodivergence in school, health care,
family and leisure settings in Southern Norway

Over the last few years, referrals to specialist mental health care related to neurodivergence has increased immensely in Norway, presently accounting for about 40 percent of all referrals to Sørlandet hospital. At the same time, public discourse, parents, teachers and surveys express concerns regarding the well-being of the young population of Norway today. Every child is different, where neurodiversity as a concept refers to the natural variety of mental functions, including particular strengths and challenges. Neurodivergence is a non-medical umbrella term, which includes identified conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD, among others. Neurodivergent children indeed have certain superpowers; however, a higher incidence of mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, as well as troubles in school, are generally reported amongst this population. We hypothesise that nature-based solutions can contribute to stress reduction, attention restoration, time-outs, enhanced self-efficacy, renewed motivation and connectedness for children and adolescents. Through the five-year (2023 - 2027) project "Where Wild Things Grow" Sørlandet hospital collaborates with schools, community-based health services and volunteer organisations in the local municipalities to establish a continuum of nature-based strategies to prevent mental ill-health and marginalisation of neurodivergent youngsters. Through developing and implementing modified versions of friluftsterapi as community-based interventions in school, health care, family and leisure settings, the overall aim is to promote inclusion, mental well-being and self-efficacy for these children. In this workshop, we present the foundation and the research design of this collaborative project, as well as sharing preliminary experiences from the pilot phase of the project.

The importance of involving fathers of neurodivergent boys
in nature-based treatment – and how to do it!

This workshop will present the theoretical background for why fathers should be involved in the treatment of their sons, who struggle with neurodivergence (ADHD/ADD/ASD/Tourette), and why we have developed nature-based father-son interventions. We will present three different formats that we have applied in this innovative work so far and clinical examples will illustrate our experiences. Following an introductory session indoors (45 mins), we will move outside where the workshop participants will be divided into four groups to experience exercises that are used in our clinical interventions for the remaining 45 mins.

In this workshop, we will share some interesting observations from the father-son interventions:

- Fathers validating their sons by joining their activities during the group sessions, supported by nature’s rich potential for diversity and uniqueness.

- Fathers recognising behaviour they might have expressed in their own childhood due to their own experience with neurodivergence.

- Sons showing their troubles “in vivo” and fathers coping with this, supported by therapeutic supervision or by modelling the behaviour of other fathers.

- Sons receiving support from their fathers through shared nature-based activities aimed at building self-efficacy.

- Fathers and sons gaining insights into their reactions when feeling stressed and their shared possibilities for seeking out nature to reduce stress, restore attention, and experience connectedness to nature and each other. 

Furthermore, this workshop will present a model for linking these clinical experiences to the local communities, schools and networks where the child grows up.

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