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Could 'mindfulness training' help kids with ADHD?

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
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6th September 2013 - A brain training technique used to achieve mental clarity could help children concentrate in class, says a small study. Some evidence has also shown that teaching 'mindfulness' could benefit children with ADHD who struggle honing their attention skills because they are hyperactive.

The findings, to be presented at a British Psychological Society conference in Reading, are based on an 8 week course in mindfulness taught to some primary school children aged 10 and 11.

Dominic Crehan, a psychology graduate student at the University of Cambridge who co-wrote the study, explains: "Mindfulness is about living in the present moment, with an attitude of curiosity, experiential openness and acceptance."

Stress and depression

He says the technique has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but that up until now researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.

The researchers recruited 30 boys and girls to take part in a mindfulness course as part of their Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PHSCE) lessons. They used a course called .b (pronounced 'dot-bee'), which stands for 'stop, breathe and be', which was written by the Mindfulness in Schools Project.

Calming the mind

The year 6 children spent 40 minutes a week following the course which was led by a teacher they knew well. Each week covered a different aspect of the course.

  • Week 1 - directing the attention
  • Week 2 - calming the mind and cultivating curiosity and kindness
  • Week 3 - recognising worry and noticing how your mind plays tricks on you
  • Week 4 - stepping out of auto-pilot and being here, now
  • Week 5 - bringing mindfulness to daily activity
  • Week 6 - stepping back and watching the thought-traffic of your mind
  • Week 7 - understanding stress and befriending the difficult
  • Week 8 - pulling it all together, and course evaluation

The children were split into two groups and took the course at different times. This allowed the researchers to compare the groups and see whether the technique made any difference.

The children's ability to pay attention was measured with the aid of a specially designed computer game. These tests were carried out on three occasions at three month intervals.

The results indicated that an improvement in the children's ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the mindfulness course.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the 'peer review' process, in which outside experts scrutinise the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

Decreasing hyperactive behaviour

None of the children in the study had ADHD, but Dominic Crehan says some recent studies have looked at the effects of children with the condition. "Results have been largely inconclusive, because of small sample sizes, difficulties with methodology and the prevalence of self-report and parent-report measures such as questionnaires," he tells us, "but [there have been] some indications of positive effects, e.g. a decrease in hyperactive behaviours."

Andrea Bilbow, chief executive and founder of the ADHD charity ADDISS says the mindfulness technique has yet to filter through to those dealing with children who have the condition, characterised by hyperactivity and compulsive behaviour.

She says it may prove beneficial to those who are keen to control their condition. "I think those children would really buy into it," she tells us. "You've got to want help. If you don't want help - or don't believe that you need help - then it's not going to be able to help you. But if you are a kid who's very much self-aware, then I think they may well be open to it."

Reviewed on September 06, 2013

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