Mindfulness and ADHD
There is a growing interest and curiosity in the use of mindfulness meditation in helping people with ADHD. Mindfulness, developed from Buddhist meditation practices, and brought to the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in 1979 founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Because of his interest in Mindfulness practices he developed the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program, adapting Buddhist teachings on mindfulness. He later created a structured eight-week course called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
Jon Kabat-Zinn described his definition of mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
Since it’s inception, the use of mindfulness by health and mental health practitioners, educators and others has been growing because it has been found to be helpful in enabling people to focus their awareness on the present moment, while concurrently acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Also, practitioners have found that there are additional benefits of this meditation practice which include stress reduction and self-acceptance.
Given all these benefits-mindfulness practice for those with ADHD appears to be exactly what people with ADHD need due to their challenges with being and staying in the moment; their inconsistency in maintaining focus, and oftentimes, their low self-esteem.
Research on ADHD and mindfulness indicates that mindfulness training can be adapted for those with ADHD so that it can improve concentration and hyperactivity. For these reasons, many educators, ADHD Coaches, and mental health professionals are teaching mindfulness to those with whom they work.
Several researchers at University of California-Los Angeles, Lidia Zylowska, M.D, and Susan Smalley, Ph.D, created a research center called Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) to study the effects of mindfulness on those with ADHD. The researchers and their colleagues at MARC have adapted traditional Mindfulness practices for those with ADHD. They then did some research using this newly created program, the Mindful Awareness Practices for ADHD (MAP) program.
The MAP program was tailored for those with ADHD by making it more gradual and flexible for people with ADHD. Research participants included 25 adults and 8 adolescents who started meditating for just five minutes at a time and increased slowly to 20 minutes. If they found it too difficult to stay seated, they could do mindful walking instead.
The MAP for ADHD program differed from traditional mindfulness approaches in it’s addition of visual aids. Visual aids were added to the program because people with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
At the core of the MAP ADHD training are two key elements that are practiced throughout the day:
- focusing on the present moment;
- having an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance (having a nonjudgmental attitude).
The purpose in practicing these to activities is to improve the person’s ability to pay attention to patterns and to subtle changes that happen from one moment to the next. The theory is that the more people are aware of their own behaviors-the better able they are to change impulsive and other attention related behaviors.
Results of the MAP Study
Most of the participants in the MARC study reported improvement in their level of hyperactivity and attention. Self reports, and tests given before and after the program to measure cognitive impairment and attention showed improvement in conflict attention(ability to stay focused despite distractions) and some of the inhibition-implying measures, though working memory wasn’t strongly affected. Although these findings are encouraging, there was no control group in this study so further research is needed to validate the research results.
Other Studies on Mindfulness and ADHD
Other studies going on nationally include using the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. This study by Amishi Jha at University of Pennsylvania, looked into the effects of mindfulness training (MT) on attention and working memory. This research used two types of mindfulness training to examine factors that are believed to contribute to attention: alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring. Many familiar with the study have suggested that a key component of this mindfulness training is the ability to elicit relaxation that counteracts stress. Others argue that this mindfulness training’s utility is in cognitive training of attention which allows the individual to re-interpret stressors (Teasdale, Segal, & Williams,1995). The study authors concluded that it is possible that MT does not directly improve attention but that physiological effects of the training, such as a reduction in autonomic nervous system “fight-or-flight” functions affect attention.
Although further study in needed using mindfulness, these studies seem to show promise using an adapted form of mindfulness meditation for people with ADHD in helping them to stay focused, improve their ability to manage hyperactivity, be less impulsive, and be less affected by stress.
Boyce, T. , Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastrophe of Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Delta, 1991.
Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. [V.], & Williams, J. M. G. (1995). How
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Zylowska L, Smalley SL: Mindful Awareness for ADHD. In Mindfulness and its Clinical Applications Didonna F (ed). Springer, 2008.
Zylowska, Lidia The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals. Trumpeter Books, 2012.
Can Mindfulness Help ADHD? Yes it can!