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Mindfulness and Adult ADHD

Adult ADHD affects near five percent of the population, although the actual diagnosis rate is far lower. Many adults live unaware of what sits behind their chronic struggles with attention, time management, emotional self-regulation, and a host of related abilities that impact family, work, and well-being. And those already diagnosed often have a hard time finding providers familiar with adult ADHD management.

Dr. Lidia Zylowska is one adult provider aiming to make a difference. A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Zylowska achieved some notice several years ago when she published a pilot study adapting for ADHD the acclaimed mindfulness based stress reduction program. While some were skeptical that adults and adolescents with ADHD could sit and practice mindfulness, almost everyone entering the program completed it - even with a meditation component built around attention training. Participants reported lower stress and an increased sense of well-being. Specific measures of attention and executive function improved.

Dr. Zylowska's new book The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD offers mindfulness through a practical, eight-step program. It includes accessible discussions of how ADHD related executive function deficits affect people day-to-day. It even integrates advice for how to maintain these practices consistently in the midst of a busy life. The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD is a unique resource for adults with ADHD, particularly those looking to explore the practice of mindfulness or to build on an already existing one.

If you are a harried parent, an adult with ADHD, or (as is common) both a harried parent and an adult with ADHD, mindfulness is meant for you. Through mindfulness we build an ability to attend more fully to our experience as it happens, wrestling less with a sense that things aren't as they 'should' be. Whatever our natural tendencies, we increase an ability to focus our attention where we want while also cultivating compassion for ourselves and others. While a practice of meditation is often suggested, it is a style in which we never aim to eliminate thought, only to sit more comfortably with a busy mind.

ADHD also has a profound effect on relationships. Both a child's and a parents' symptoms affect the whole family, and parents of children with ADHD have a significantly increased risk of having this highly heritable condition themselves. And then adult ADHD makes it harder to stick to recommended parenting strategies which generally depend on consistent routines and limit setting, escalating a tough dynamic.

The executive function deficits inherent to ADHD don't affect only attention and impulse control, they interfere with a host of self-regulatory skills that can affect almost any aspect of daily living. Difficulty with executive function may be the most prominent feature for adults with ADHD, who commonly lack the 'hyperactivity' component (as is also true for anyone with ADHD-inattentive type, or 'ADD'). While much can be done to diffuse the situation, to address the potential impact of ADHD on a household we first need to know it's there. So, to identify the often hidden influences of ADHD, parents may first need to look at the possibility that they have it too.

If you're curious about yourself, a free adult ADHD screener is available through the World Health Organization. Information about adult ADHD and listings of resources are available through the ADDA. And many good books have been published about the effects of ADHD on families and relationships, offering tips for minimizing its effects on you and your loved ones. Finding the time to take care of yourself as a parent with ADHD is an often vital part of caring for your children... which may include proactively addressing the impact of your own ADHD.

Originally Published on March 30, 2012 by Mark Bertin, M.D. in Child Development Central

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