Mindfulness: A promising, inexpensive approach for managing AD/HD

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in ATTN, the official magazine of the national conference of the AD/HD Society of the Philippines, on October 2012. 

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MIND YOU: Mindfulness helps children pay attention to attention

Apprehensions regarding drug-based treatments for AD/HD exist, especially here in the Philippines. Family members, educational specialists, teachers and counselors often have second thoughts about placing students with AD/HD on medication. Even some adults with AD/HD are wary about “popping a pill” for their condition. Common concerns cited are the possible side effects and the significant financial costs of treatment.

Though the pharmacological approach has been deemed the quickest and most efficacious way to curb AD/HD symptoms in many individuals, it has been found that about “20 to 30 percent of children and adolescents, and perhaps 50 percent of adults” (Zylowska, Smalley & Schwartz, 2009) do not respond well to AD/HD medications. In addition, it has been observed that some stimulant medications may not be as effective for those with the inattentive typology of AD/HD (Kraft, 2010).

Fortunately, non-drug based alternatives to treat AD/HD symptoms are currently being researched to complement and perhaps eventually wean individuals away from such medications. In addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavioral coaching, neurofeedback, and others, one of the promising non-pharmacological approaches being explored to manage AD/HD symptoms is mindfulness.

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness or “mindful awareness” has its roots in Buddhist practice. However, growing evidence supporting its effectiveness in managing the symptoms of various conditions, including AD/HD, have been highlighted by Western scholars in recent years.

In her book The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult AD/HD, one of the foremost scholars on mindfulness and AD/HD, Dr. Lidia Zylowska, states that mindfulness is “the opposite of being distracted, lost in thought or daydreaming,” seemingly inevitable occurrences for persons with AD/HD. Instead, it is “being alert and aware of what we are doing as we are doing it, and tracking our experience moment by moment… without being limited by automatic responses, judgments, and expectations.” Simply said, the core tenet of mindfulness is “paying attention to attention”.

The most basic mindfulness exercise involves:

  • A sitting or standing meditation in a place free from distractions
  • Spending five minutes focusing on your breathing, and paying attention to the fall and rise of the belly
  • Refocusing attention back on your breathing if you get distracted by your thoughts. Do not judge them as “good” or “bad” and simply let them go

THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS

A feasibility study done by Dr. Zylowska, Dr. Susan Smalley and their colleagues at the University of California-Los Angeles in 2009 found that individuals with AD/HD can indeed be trained in mindfulness and reap its significant benefits. Though further research is still warranted in this relatively new field, initial studies have indicated that mindfulness training and practice can help individuals with AD/HD improve attention control, emotional regulation, and working memory.

In addition, family members of persons with AD/HD can benefit from practicing mindful awareness, too.  A study headed by Dr. Nirbhay Singh ofVirginia Commonwealth University discovered that mothers of children with AD/HD who underwent mindfulness training changed their attitudes towards their children, which then resulted to better compliance from their kids.

Lastly, being mindful also helps in managing stress, a frequent visitor and even mainstay among families with at least one member with AD/HD.

CONCLUSION

Indeed, mindfulness is emerging as a promising, more economical approach for managing AD/HD symptoms. We should remember, however, that it is not a panacea. As with other treatments, it may or may not work for a specific individual. Ultimately, with the myriad of approaches available, it is best to explore the treatment or combination of treatments that will work for you or your loved one. CMRC

For more information regarding mindfulness and its application for individuals with AD/HD, you may check out the following resources:

  • The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult AD/HD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals by Dr. Lidia Zylowska
  • Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) http://marc.ucla.edu

395098_10150547459866528_60070341_nCharissa Mariel R. Cruz is a licensed teacher who has served both regular learners and students with special needs in a variety of settings. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the De La Salle University-Manila, and was conferred with a Master’s Degree in Special Education by the University of the Philippines-Diliman in October 2012. She has recently begun to practice mindfulness in her daily life.

REFERENCES
Kraft, D.  (2010). Nonmedication treatments for adult AD/HD: Evaluating impact on daily functioning and well-being by J. Russell Ramsay, PhD (Book Review).Journal of American College Health, 59(1), 57-59.

Singh, N. N., Singh, A. N., Lancioni, G. E., et al. (2010). Mindfulness training for parents and their children with AD/HD increases the children’s compliance. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 157-166.

Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. I., Hale, S., et al. (2008). Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with AD/HD: A feasibility study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 737-746.

Zylowska L., Smalley S.L. & Schwartz, J.M. (2009).Mindful awareness and AD/HD. In Didonna, F. (ed). Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness.(pp. 319-338). USA: Springer.

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