Mindfulness in the Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have persistent difficulties controlling their attention, finding that their minds jump from one topic to another. Traditionally, medications have been the first line of treatment for children and adults with ADHD. Now, researchers are learning more about the benefits of mindfulness in treating ADHD.
What Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. Inattentive symptoms may include failure to pay close attention to details, making mistakes on homework, difficulty maintaining attention while playing, appearing not to listen, failure to follow through on instructions, difficulty staying organized, losing everyday materials such as books or pencils, distractibility, and avoidance of mentally effortful tasks. Kids with hyperactivity symptoms often fidget or squirm in their seats, run around when it is not socially appropriate, act like they are constantly “on the go,” have difficulty engaging in quiet play, talk excessively, blurt out answers, have difficulty waiting their turn, and frequently interrupt others.
Although symptoms of ADHD can affect individuals at any age, the symptoms must begin before age 12 to be given the diagnosis of ADHD. Because of the early development of these symptoms, kids with ADHD often struggle to succeed in school, despite being bright. As a result, parents may choose to put kids on medication, which can help to control some symptoms of ADHD, but may result in undesirable side effects. New research suggests that in addition to cognitive/behavioral therapies, interventions such as mindfulness can be very helpful in managing ADHD symptoms.
How Can Mindfulness Help in the Treatment of ADHD?
Mindfulness has been practiced in Eastern traditions, including Buddhism, for centuries. Over the past few decades, it has increasingly gained traction in the United States. The key element of mindfulness involves awareness of your moment-to-moment experience, including both emotional and sensory experiences. Mindfulness teaches you to non-judgmentally accept your experiences, rather than trying to suppress them or distracting yourself from your thoughts and feelings. An empirical review of the scientific literature has shown that the practice of mindfulness is associated with improved well-being, lower emotional reactivity, and better behavioral regulation. This makes it an excellent treatment for conditions such as depression and anxiety. Accumulating evidence also suggests that mindfulness is beneficial for the treatment of ADHD.
As ADHD is characterized by an inability to control attention, many parents initially express skepticism that mindfulness— which requires focused attention on one’s own thoughts and experiences— can alleviate symptoms. After all, when your child is zooming around a room, unable to focus on one thing for more than a moment, it is difficult to see how he or she would meditate for long periods of time. However, mindfulness practice is about more than meditation. It is a way for children to learn how to relate to their internal experiences.
Mindfulness treatment for ADHD often begins with small exercises that are designed to help children take notice of their own mental processes. For instance, your child may be asked to sit for one minute and focus on breathing in and out while taking notice of his or her thoughts. During this type of training, it is normal for the mind to wander and for a child to get a bit fidgety. However, your child's therapist can teach him to return his attention to breathing whenever his mind wanders. Using breathing exercises as a building block, mindfulness treatment gradually progresses to self-regulating emotions and sustaining attention.
Research Supports the Use of Mindfulness Interventions for ADHD
Several studies have reported that mindfulness is associated with better sustained attention and fewer behavioral problems for children with ADHD. One study found that after just three 20-minute training sessions, people who learned mindfulness skills had significantly better attention than the control group. A review of research in this area concluded that mindfulness can be an effective intervention for ADHD, either on its own or in conjunction with other behavioral or pharmaceutical treatments.
If you think your child might benefit from mindfulness interventions for their ADHD, remember to start slowly and gradually build skills. Learning to be non-judgmental of one’s thoughts and short practice sessions are critical in building confidence. With consistent practice, children with ADHD can see real attentional benefits from mindfulness interventions.
ChildNEXUS.com Team Member