Study: Mindfulness Exercises Effectively Reduce Symptoms in Boys with ADHD and ODD
Boys with both ADHD and ODD were less hyperactive and more attentive after attending a multi-week mindfulness training program, according to a new study that finds promise in this treatment as an viable complement or alternative to medication.
May 19, 2020
Mindfulness-based interventions can effectively reduce some symptoms of comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) in boys, according to a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders1.
The study, conducted by scientists from a cohort of Italian research institutions, found that boys with both diagnoses who underwent mindfulness interventions — ranging from stress-reduction modules to mindful eating exercises — experienced decreased hyperactive behaviors and improvement in focus and attention compared to peers placed on a waitlist for the same treatment.
No prior research had studied the efficacy of mindfulness programs on children with ADHD and ODD, despite the high comorbidity of these conditions and the popularity of mindfulness meditation as a calming therapy for children and adults with ADHD. The promise of mindfulness therapies, which are known to improve emotional regulation skills and decrease aggression, prompted this new research on children with ADHD and ODD, who experience difficulties in these very areas.
Of a participant group of 50 boys aged 8 to 12 with comorbid ADHD and ODD, half comprised the experimental group, which attended nine weekly mindfulness training sessions and worked on areas like awareness, focus, and self-control via in-session and at-home exercises. Activities were kept short in duration to keep the participants motivated, and included sitting and walking meditation, mindful eating, hatha yoga, and body scans. Parents of participants in this group also attended parallel mindfulness programs to further encourage their children to continue the program.
The boys in both groups were recruited from an associated outpatient hospital and were only enrolled in the study if they were not undergoing other ongoing pharmacological or psychosocial treatments, and met other criteria. All participants were tested on several mindfulness, behavioral, and attentional measures prior to the program’s commencement and conclusion. Data was collected via child-, parent-, and teacher-completed scales and questionnaires.
The findings show that hyperactive behaviors, assessed via a teacher report, decreased significantly in children in the experimental group compared with those in the waitlist group (effect size of 0.59 versus 0.00, respectively). The boys in the experimental group also showed improved visual sustained attention compared to the control group (effect size of 0.77 and 0.04, respectively). Finally, the boys in the experimental group saw relative gains in psychological flexibility — the ability to stay in the moment and see thoughts and feelings as fleeting and impermanent (0.43 versus 0.09). “Meditation and mindfulness-based activities could help children to be more focused on moment-by-moment experiences and to intentionally direct their attention to what they are doing in the present,” the study reads.
Based on their findings, the researchers noted that a mindfulness interventions could be suitable for children with both ADHD and ODD. Treatment, however, would also need to target aggressive behavioral problems, as the mindfulness training carried out in the study did not result in meaningful changes in aggressive behaviors (effect sizes of 0.10 in the experimental group and 0.09 in the control group).
This study is limited by its small sample size and its restriction to males. Still, the researchers believe that mindfulness interventions could be “promising alternatives” for children with ADHD and ODD who don’t respond to medication or who aren’t otherwise pursuing pharmacological treatments.
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1 Muratori, P., Conversano, C., et.al. (2020). Exploring the Efficacy of a Mindfulness Program for Boys With Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Journal of Attention Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720915256