Meditation for ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a growing epidemic in the United States. As of 2007, 5.4 million American children and teens had been diagnosed with ADHD. American parents believe that as many as 25% of their children suffer from ADHD. While just 5.4 million kids were diagnosed, only 2.7 million were actually receiving treatment. According to PBS, 2 or 3 students in every classroom are taking medication for ADHD. Not only are the side effects of Ritalin and other ADHD drugs unwelcome, but many parents fear their children will have an ever-deepening, life-long dependency on these drugs. Additionally, many adults who suffer from ADHD report no benefit from medication at all. Is there another choice?

Water In a recent study of mindfulness meditation on both teens and adults diagnosed with ADHD, 78% of the participants were able to complete the study. This in and of itself is quite a victory as meditation requires physical and mental stillness for long periods of time. There are no adverse effects to meditation, and the cost is not prohibitive. 75% of the participants in the study reported a reduction in their ADHD symptoms with the mindfulness meditation regimen. Neuropsychological measures also showed improvement in the subjects after the course of meditation. Additionally, ADHD is often accompanied by mood disorders, and this study reported that meditation lowered those reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The mindfulness meditation used in the study consisted of three steps. You may try these for yourself or assist your children in utilizing this method. First, focus your attention on what is known as an “attention anchor” (such as a spot on the wall, one's breathing, or a piece of fruit you hold in your hand). Then, if and when your attention drifts from time to time, be aware that a distraction has occurred. Finally, re-focus back on the “attention anchor.” In this particular study, 10 minutes of meditation was done twice a day. Over time, the subjects were asked to “pay attention to their attention.” The intention of this last bit is to teach the ADHD sufferer that it is possible to be aware of when a distraction is occurring and to consciously re-direct one's focus back to the task at hand.

What about younger children with ADHD? Can meditation work for them too? The online journal Current Issues in Education reported a study on exactly this issue. In the study, a similar meditation protocol to the one above was used, except here students focused on specific mantras (“I am calm”) or sounds (“Omm”) as they meditated. The study included children from age 11-14 and reported, “'The effect was much greater than we expected.' Improvements were found in attention, behavior regulation, memory, and organization.” 

In cultures where Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation are regularly practiced, rates of ADHD are minimal, says Dr. John Ranseen of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Perhaps you can encourage your children's school to implement a meditation program like the one at Toluca Lake Elementary in Los Angeles. The Examiner reported, “Schools have been turning to mindfulness for very practical reasons that don't concern religion, and their efforts have been supported by a recent wave of scientific results.”

  ~ Jillian Avey,