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ADHD Natural Treatment: Mindful Awareness

For many children who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the inability to pay attention and stay focused prevents them from accomplishing schoolwork and other important daily tasks. It makes sense that attention training is the key to helping children cope with their inattention problems, but where can a child learn this?

Recently, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) established the Mindful Awareness Research Center to explore how the mindful awareness meditation technique can be used to improve awareness, psychological well-being, and overall wellness.  Mindful awareness has been used by many cultures for thousands of years; Buddhists, for instance, practice a form of mindful awareness called vipassana. But your child doesn’t have to be religious in order to benefit from mindful awareness.  The whole point of the exercise is to focus on breathing while acknowledging that, although the mind is naturally distractible, it can be outwitted by re-shifting attention to breath.

Practicing mindful awareness is very simple, as it only has three basic steps:

  1. Attention is brought to an attentional anchor like breathing.
  2. It is the nature of the mind to wander into other thoughts.  Distractions in the form of thoughts or extraneous stimuli are acknowledged and then let go of.
  3. Attention is refocused to the attentional anchor.

The child is made to sit in a quiet, comfortable place and instructed to breathe deeply, paying close attention to how the abdomen falls and rises with each breath. Since it is the nature of children to be unable to keep their mind focused on one thing, the child will be taught how to acknowledge extraneous thoughts and brought back to paying attention to his or her breath. 

One pilot study done at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center showed that 25 adults and 8 children with ADHD received significant benefits after undergoing an 8-week meditation program.  Brain scans showed that dopamine levels and brain activity also changed, but that the results varied between those who meditated often and those who did not.  Although these findings may seem as though sitting still for a few minutes each day makes ADHD all better, significant improvements only occur when mindful awareness is used in everyday life, when there is an awareness of where your attention lingers in routine activities.

As helpful as mind awareness might be, experts believe that very young children may be unable to appreciate the skills taught by this technique.  Even without ADHD, children 6 years old and below have difficulty sitting still for a longer period of time.  This technique is best practiced by an older child with guidance from a practitioner or a guided program, such as the one offered by the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  Their user-friendly program lasts eight weeks and consists of weekly two-hour training sessions and tips on how to practice it at home. The child starts out with five-minute meditations at home daily, gradually working up to 15 or 20 minutes.  ADHD children will have no difficulty learning the basic concepts of mindful meditation, as they often use visual aids to help them understand the concepts of awareness, and the thoughts, sensations, and emotions that often pass by.  For more information on mindful awareness, visit the Mindful Awareness Research Center at http://www.marc.ucla.edu