Thursday, December 23, 2010

MINDFULNESS AND ADHD

There is a steadily growing body of material attesting to the usefulness, as a form of complementary treatment, of Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation as respects the self-management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (For a short video on ADHD see this link.)

Studies at Duke University, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and elsewhere have highlighted how Mindfulness can help persons diagnosed with ADHD stay focused, with emotional equanimity, in the present.

It has been estimated that between one and three per cent of Australians suffer from ADHD.

People often say that persons with ADHD are incapable of paying attention. That is not so. One may want very much to pay attention, and yet find the task too difficult. The very name for the condition is a bit of a misnomer. All people have the innate ability to concentrate, and persons with ADHD are often the brightest of the bright.

Australian researchers (the chief investigator being A/Prof Alasdair Vance from the University of Melbourne) found in 2007 that brain scans of children with ADHD had a dysfunction in the part of the brain which controls the ability to develop coping strategies. Persons with the neurological disorder work overtime in an often futile attempt to feel in “control” of their situation, which tends to result in increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety and even aggression.

Mindfulness is all about staying focused and attentive in the present moment, and having an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance in relation to whatever unfolds from moment to moment. Thus, when it comes to the effects of conditions such as ADHD (for there is a wide variety of attention-related disorders, and ADHD can manifest with or without hyperactivity or behaviour disorders), you get quiet - that in itself slows the mind - and simply watch, and mentally note if need be, your seeming inability to concentrate.

Consistent with the practice of Mindfulness, you do not judge this seeming inability to concentrate or maintain control nor chastise yourself for it.  Nor is it helpful attempting to stop yourself doing it or fighting against it in order to get “control” over your mind. Just sit and watch it. Quite often, that is sufficient in itself to stop the leaping about.

Impulse control is often a problem for persons with ADHD. The regular practice of Mindfulness can assist here, because we learn that we do not have to act upon every, or indeed any, thought. We can simply watch the thought … and let it go. We lean to put some “space” between the thought and the act. (As Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Thought is parent of the deed.”) When we become aware of, say, a tendency on one’s part to act impulsively we can choose not to so act next time the impulse arises.

Mindfulness assists us all in developing and maintaining a present moment awareness, irrespective of whether or not we have been formally diagnosed with ADHD. In the age of the computer, the internet and so-called “multi-tasking” (oh, how I hate that word, for there is no such thing, the truth being that we “shift” from one task to another), we are all over-stimulated. Unfortunately, with over-stimulation comes distractibility and lack of focus and attention. The regular practice of Mindfulness increases focus, attention and impulse control, and decreases distractibility.

Today, in the lead up to Christmas, I say to you all, “Slow down, be still, get quiet … and all will be well.”

(This post sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)


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