ADHD News & Research

Study: Mindfulness Therapy Could Effectively Treat ADHD in Children

Can mindfulness meditation help children with ADHD? In a small study, students with ADHD showed promising symptom management and improvement in the classroom following mindfulness therapy sessions, potentially validating a standardized approach for this treatment with medication.

October 21, 2019

Mindfulness-based interventions may effectively treat ADHD in children, according to early findings of a pilot study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry1 this month.

The study, conducted by the Yale University Child Study Center, tested the efficacy of standardized mindfulness therapy in treating a group of nine school children with ADHD between 7 and 11 years old. The findings showed that after several mindfulness sessions, the children showed improvement in benchmarks like classroom performance and some ADHD symptoms including working memory and retention.

“Although these are very preliminary measures of efficacy, we nonetheless found them very interesting,” said David C. Saunders, M.D., Ph.D., who led the study and presented its findings at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) 66th Annual Meeting, according to Medscape2.

Mindfulness meditation has been clinically shown to improve attention in neurotypical adults and those with ADHD, the study reads. Small mindfulness studies in teenagers with ADHD have also demonstrated preliminary evidence of efficacy. To date, however, there exists no standardized mindfulness approach for treating children with ADHD. The new study, therefore, involved the development, refining, and testing of a standardized treatment manual — Mindfulness-Based ADHD Treatment for Children (MBAT-C).

Metrics like attendance, retention, homework completion, and engagement were evaluated in the nine children, who met twice weekly with instructors in 16 half-hour mindfulness sessions guided by the MBAT-C. Therapy sessions dealt with explaining mindfulness and implementing some mindful meditation approaches on the body and mind.

The participants were also tested on several indices of ADHD symptoms including attention, behavior, and executive functioning using the ADHD Rating Scale and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) – Attention Problem subscale. The manual was refined through focus groups and feedback from participants and parents that considered the ideal sequence of meditation practices, discussion topics, and logistics.

The results exceeded pretrial benchmarks, including attendance (65.9%), retention (75%), homework completion (66.1%), and engagement.

“Kids came to 86.8% of the classes, which we thought was pretty remarkable,” Saunders said, “It’s a simple finding, but we thought it pretty remarkable, given the difficult circumstances that a lot of these kids come from.”

The children also saw improvements on the ADHD Rating Scale, where scores dropped from 33.43 to 25.29. Scores for the (CBCL) – Attention Problem subscale also decreased from 10.43 to 8.14.

While working memory among the children improved, measures like sustained attention and executive function did not.

The study, given its promising preliminary findings, will enter a next phase and has already received funding by the National Institutes of Health. The future study will have about 45 participants, and will compare the MBAT-C to ADHD medication and a combined intervention in the treatment of children with ADHD.

“People outside the clinical world and meditation world who hear about this study invariably ask me, ‘How on earth are you going to teach 7- to 11-year-old kids with ADHD mindfulness? That sounds crazy,’ “said Saunders, who underlined that further study is needed to assess the efficacy of standardized mindfulness therapy. “And in some ways, I think they’re right. But fortunately, there is some early evidence to suggest that mindfulness is a worthwhile treatment to pursue.”

Sources

1 Saunders, David C. (2019). Mindfulness-Based ADHD Treatment for Children: A Pilot Feasibility Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 58, Issue 10, S312.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2019.07.717

2 Vlessides, M. (2019, Oct. 16). Mindfulness Therapy Promising for ADHD in Children. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/919940#vp_1

Updated on December 5, 2019

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