New Study Highlights Benefits of Mindfulness for ADHD Symptoms

Jillian Enright

Mindfulness: ADHD Style!

Practical and applicable research for people with ADHD

Really? Mindfulness helps people with ADHD? You don’t say!

Alright, before you wax sarcastic on me, I have to tell you this: I dislike mindfulness. Or perhaps I did not find my limited experience with mindfulness exercises at all helpful because of my ADHD.

My mind is constantly racing. I have a very, very difficult time focusing on a single thought or physiological experience, which probably means I would really benefit from mindfulness if I took the time to slow down and actually practice.

That’s the other thing. I have a feeling it probably would be helpful, but I have not yet made it a priority because my brain only wants to do the Fun and Exciting Things. No time for this sitting still foolishness!

If the body of strong scientific research supporting the benefit of mindfulness for those with ADHD is mounting, then perhaps it will be enough to convince my skeptical, race car brain to actually give it a proper try.

We’ll see.

The study

A new study published findings about the benefits of mindfulness for children with ADHD and their parents. In this study, the children and their parents attended weekly parallel 90-minute long group sessions over the course of eight weeks.

Afterward, parents were interviewed by independent researchers (not those who facilitated the groups) and were asked open-ended questions about the benefits and adverse effects of the mindfulness program they attended.

The majority of participants reported no adverse effects. The most common complaint was the amount of homework assigned from the mindfulness program wherein parents and their children were asked to practice specific skills at home during the week.

Interestingly, at the outset of the interviews, it appeared that parents were reporting very little effect, either positive or negative. However, once the interviewers proceeded with further open-ended questions, there were quite a number of perceived benefits to the program described by parents in their discussions with the interviewers.

Increased self-awareness

Increased intrapersonal awareness for both parents and children was reported, meaning they had improved awareness of their own bodily sensations, thoughts, behaviours, and habitual patterns.

This is important because many people with ADHD have difficulty with interoception, which is the ability to sense and perceive the physiological condition of your body.

Interoception is also an important first step toward developing and strengthening emotion regulation skills:

Recognizing How Emotions Feel Physically In Our Bodies

In this study, parents reported becoming more aware of their critical view of their child. This is also incredibly important because children with ADHD often have low self-esteem and are more frequently criticized and corrected when compared to their neurotypical peers.

Children with ADHD tend to be highly sensitive to rejection, especially real or perceived disapproval from their parents.

In the study, children became more aware of their own emotions, their behaviour and its effect on others, as well as the effect of others’ behaviour on them. This is also important because people with ADHD, especially children, tend to have social skills deficits, including difficulty with affect recognition.

Acceptance

Parents found they were more accepting of their children with ADHD, as well as their partner with ADHD (or ADHD characteristics), if applicable.

This is significant because children diagnosed with ADHD are more often rejected by their peers, so it is very important they have people in their lives who show them unconditional positive regard, love, and acceptance.

Further, insecure attachment style is extremely common in children with ADHD. Research published just last month (October 2021) shows this pattern of insecure attachment persists, even after ADHD is diagnosed and symptoms are treated.

This insecure attachment style is also related to increased emotional dysregulation and anxiety in children with ADHD and increased anxiety and depression in adolescents with ADHD.

“Children with a history of insecure attachment are more likely to demonstrate emotional incompetence, typified by a lack of regulated anger and poorer emotional understanding.”  — (Hughes & Gurney-Smith, 2020).

When a child is accepted, even if their behaviour is not, this strengthens the child’s secure attachment.

Emotion regulation & cognitive functioning

This study’s findings were consistent with the previous research wherein parents reported becoming less reactivetoward their children. Children and parents both managed to react less impulsively in challenging situations after completing the mindfulness program.

Parents in this study mentioned the ability to get a clearer overview in stressful situations, and children demonstrated improved planning and working memory.

Parents reported feeling more relaxed in general, and children were better able to fall asleep at bedtime.

Improved relationships

All parents reported warmer relationships with their children with ADHD, and mentioned fewer quarrels, both at home and at school. Teachers noticed children were able to focus better and behave more calmly, improving the teacher-student relationship.

Improved social interactions at school also resulted in some children making new friends. If sustainable, this is a highly significant factor because children with ADHD experience more social rejection than their peers, also contributing to poor self-concept.

Finding ways to support children with ADHD socially has been challenging because, as research has shown, social skills training groups held outside of the environment in which the problems occur are not very effective.

Usually, support and guidance must be given at the point of performance, which means at the moment the skill needs to be used in real life, not in a clinic.

This is challenging because most people don’t have the time and resources to follow a child through their day and provide support. Not to mention, having someone looking over your shoulder all day long is not likely to be well received by anyone, especially a child who wants to fit in with their peers.

A program that can be implemented at home, in private, and have positive effects on various aspects of peoples’ lives without singling them out at school or work would certainly be preferable.

© Jillian Enright, ADHD 2e MB

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Related Stories

Why Rejection Is More Painful With ADHD
Recognizing How Emotions Feel Physically In Our Bodies
How Executive Dysfunction Impacts Daily Life

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References

Dekkers, T. J., Hornstra, R., van den Hoofdakker, B. J., de Jong, S. R. C., Schaaf, J. V., Bosmans, G., & van der Oord, S. (2021). Attachment Representations in Children with and without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Brain Sciences, 11(11), 1516. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11111516

Frick, M. A., Rasmussen, P. D., Brocki, K. C. (2021). Can attachment predict core and comorbid symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder beyond executive functions and emotion regulation? British Journal of Clinical Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12317

Grygiel, P., Humenny, G., Rębisz, S., Bajcar, E., & Świtaj, P. (2018). Peer Rejection and Perceived Quality of Relations With Schoolmates Among Children With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 22(8), 738–751. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054714563791

Huges, D., & Gurney-Smith, B. (2020). The Little Book of Attachment: Theory to practice in child mental health with dyadic developmental psychotherapy. W.W. North & Company.

Jellinek, M. (2010). Don’t let ADHD crush children’s self-esteem. Clinical Psychiatry News. https://cdn.mdedge.com/files/s3fs-public/issues/articles/70231_main_7.pdf

Kordahji, H., Ben-David, S. & Elkana, O. (2021). Attachment Anxiety Moderates the Association Between ADHD and Psychological Distress. Psychiatric Quarterly 92, 1711–1724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11126-021-09919-6

Mazzone, L., Postorino, V., Reale, L., Guarnera, M., Mannino, V., Armando, M., Fatta, L., De Peppo, L., & Vicari, S. (2013). Self-esteem evaluation in children and adolescents suffering from ADHD. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health : CP & EMH, 9, 96–102. https://doi.org/10.2174/1745017901309010096

Mikami, A.Y., Smit, S. & Khalis, A. (2017). Social Skills Training and ADHD — What Works?. Current Psychiatry Reports 19, 93. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0850-2

Parke, E. M., Becker, M. L., Graves, S. J., Baily, A. R., Paul, M. G., Freeman, A. J., & Allen, D. N. (2021). Social Cognition in Children With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(4), 519–529. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054718816157

Rasmussen, P. D., Elmose, M., Lien, G., Musaeus, A., Kirubakaran, R., Ribeiro, J. P., & Storebø, O. J. (2021). Remarkable high frequency of insecure attachment in children with ADHD persists in a three-year follow-up. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 10.1080/08039488.2021.1969428

Siebelink, N. M., Kaijadoe, S. P. T., van Horssen, F. M., Holtland, J. N. P., Bögels, S. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Speckens, A. E. M., & Greven, C. U. (2021). Mindfulness for Children With ADHD and Mindful Parenting (MindChamp): A Qualitative Study on Feasibility and Effects. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(13), 1931–1942. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720945023

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of ADHD 2e MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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