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Markus Mattsson

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

Markus is a psychologist and researcher, and one of our newer members of the outdoor therapy team at the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at Sørlandet hospital HE in Kristiansand, Norway. Markus previously ran a grandparents and grandchild project at the Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Children and Young People in the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare in Turku, Finland, which collaborated with the Norwegians over the last few years. Through external funding of the Where Wild Things Grow-project, Markus was recruited for a research position.

Markus Mattsson - 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.

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