Mindfulness training or medication for the treatment of childhood ADHD?

Is mindfulness meditation or medication more effective in the treatment of childhood ADHD? A new study, currently in a progress and outlined this July in BMC Psychiatry, aims to answer this question.

Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) is a highly common childhood disorder, with a prevalence of 5 %. Children and adolescents with ADHD show inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive behavior that interferes with their social functioning or development – which has a severe impact on both the children and their families.

Medication is currently the most effective method for treating ADHD and is the first choice of treatment worldwide. Methylphenidate is often the recommended drug of choice, with other drugs being prescribed if the medication does not reach its intended effects, including drugs such as dextroamphetamine and atomoxetine.

Behavioral treatment approaches have been shown to be less effective when compared to medication. Moreover, combined behavioral and medication treatment has also failed to show additive benefits to medication alone.

Despite this, medication does have its limitations. These include concerns over severe side effects, low treatment adherence, short term effects, non-effectiveness and that its long-term effectiveness and safety are not yet well known.

Therefore, there is a need for other interventions for youngsters with ADHD. Mindfulness training is an intervention based on Eastern meditation techniques. It aims to increase awareness by focusing on the present moment, enhancing non-judgmental observation, and reducing automatic responding. Individuals are encouraged to direct their attention towards internal experiences such as bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, and action tendencies, as well as to environmental stimuli such as smells and sounds in their surroundings.

Given its focus upon developing more control over attention, mindfulness training is emerging as a potentially effective training for children and adolescents with ADHD.

The study, by Renée Meppelink, Esther de Bruin and Susan Bögels of the University of Amsterdam, will involve a randomized controlled trial that compares the effects of mindfulness training and medication (methylphenidate). 120 children and adolescents with ADHD will be divided into two groups of 60 (half receiving mindfulness training and half receiving medication) and measures of attention and hyperactivity/impulsivity will be recorded up to 10 months after the treatment.

The authors commented, “The study will be the first to reveal whether mindfulness treatment for children with ADHD can be provided as an alternative to the current standard treatment of medication.”