Improve Psychological Well-Being of Children with Learning Disabilities with Mindfulness

Improve Psychological Well-Being of Children with Learning Disabilities with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is a practice that can help children with LD manage stress and anxiety • Daily meditation gives children a relaxation tool they can call upon when stress levels rise” – Marcia Eckerd

 

Learning disabilities are quite common, affecting an estimated 4.8% of children in the U.S. These disabilities present problems for the children in learning mathematics, reading and writing. These difficulties, in turn, affect performance in other academic disciplines. The presence of learning disabilities can have serious consequences for the psychological well-being of the children, including their self-esteem and social skills. In addition, anxiety, depression, and conduct disorders often accompany learning disabilities.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to lower anxiety and depression and to improve self-esteem and social skills, and to improve conduct disorders. It has also been shown to improve attention, memory, and learning and increase success in school. So, it would make sense to explore the application of mindfulness training for the treatment of children with severe learning disabilities.

 

In today’s Research News article “A Mindfulness-Based Intervention Pilot Feasibility Study for Elementary School Students with Severe Learning Difficulties: Effects on Internalized and Externalized Symptoms from an Emotional Regulation Perspective.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871167/ ), Malboeuf-Hurtubise and colleagues recruited children with severe learning disabilities who were 9 to 12 years of age and attended a special education class. They received an 8-week mindfulness training program that met once a week for 60 minutes and included body scan, walking, and breath meditations. The children also practiced in class once a week for 30 minutes. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, aggression, attention, and conduct problems.

 

They found that in comparison to the baseline measurements, after mindfulness training the children evidenced significant improvements in anxiety, depression, aggression, attention, and conduct problems. Hence, after mindfulness training the children showed significant improvements in their psychological well-being and behavior. It should be noted that this was a pilot study and did not contain a control or comparison condition. So, firm conclusions cannot be made. But the results are sufficiently interesting and the magnitude of the effects large enough, that they support the conduct of a large scale randomized controlled clinical trial. If mindfulness training can be definitively shown to improve the psychological well-being and behavior of children with learning disabilities, it will be of great benefit in relieving at least some of the suffering of these unfortunate children.

 

So, improve psychological well-being of children with learning disabilities with mindfulness.

 

“Study outcomes suggest that mindful meditation decreases anxiety and detrimental self-focus, which, in turn, promotes social skills and academic success for students with learning disabilities” – Kristine Burgess

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Malboeuf-Hurtubise, C., Lacourse, E., Taylor, G., Joussemet, M., & Ben Amor, L. (2017). A Mindfulness-Based Intervention Pilot Feasibility Study for Elementary School Students with Severe Learning Difficulties: Effects on Internalized and Externalized Symptoms From an Emotional Regulation Perspective. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(3), 473–481. http://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216683886

Abstract

Objective.

Students with severe learning disabilities often show signs of anxiety, depression, and problem behaviors such as inattention and conduct problems. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in school settings constitute a promising option to alleviate these co-occurring symptoms. This pilot study aimed to evaluate the impact of an MBI on symptoms and behaviors of elementary school students with severe learning disabilities.

Method.

A one-group pretest-posttest design was used. The sample comprised 14 students aged 9 to 12 years with special education needs. Both student-report and teacher-report of the Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition were used.

Results.

Repeated-measures analyses of variance revealed a significant impact of the MBI on symptoms and behaviors such as anxiety, depression, inattention, aggression, and conduct problems. Effect sizes for all variables were considered large (partial η2 = .31-.61).

Conclusion.

These preliminary results indicate that MBIs can reduce the frequency of symptoms and problem behaviors often found in children with learning disabilities in elementary schools. Further multiple baseline experimental trials with a long-term follow-up are warranted to establish more robustly the effect of MBIs for children with learning disabilities.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871167/

 

Mindfulness Impairs the Formation of Automatic Habits

Mindfulness Impairs the Formation of Automatic Habits

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The very fact of paying too much attention or being too aware of stimuli coming up in these tests might actually inhibit implicit learning. That suggests that mindfulness may help prevent formation of automatic habits — which is done through implicit learning — because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing.” – Chelsea Stillman

 

When people think of learning they’re usually visualizing learning information like historical facts, people’s names, mathematical formulas, etc. This is called explicit memory. But, there’s another very important form of learning, called implicit learning, which is learning how to perform automatic tasks rapidly and efficiently. Things like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, serving a tennis ball and tying your shoelaces all require implicit learning and memory.

 

Implicit learning requires the person to actually perform and practice a task to master it. Many athletic skills fall into this category. The skills are mastered with repetition so that they can be performed instinctively and mindlessly when needed. Implicit learning also involves most mundane tasks that we perform constantly throughout our day. Walking, producing speech, even typing this sentence on a keyboard all involve implicitly learned skills. So, implicit learning is important and helps to reduce the cognitive load on our nervous system for everyday behaviors. We don’t have the think about them so we can devote our brain capacity to higher level thoughts and ideas.

 

It has been demonstrated that mindfulness helps with explicit learning, such as academic material. For example, mindfulness training can improve college entrance exam scores in students. But, mindfulness appears to disrupt implicit learning. In today’s Research News article “Task-Related Functional Connectivity of the Caudate Mediates the Association Between Trait Mindfulness and Implicit Learning in Older Adults.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4955759/, Stillman and colleagues examine this disruptive effect of mindfulness and the neural systems responsible.

 

They recruited a group of healthy young adults (aged 18-37 years) and a group of healthy older adults (aged 60-90 years). They were measured for mindfulness and they completed an established implicit learning task. The task, Triplets Learning Task, involves a presentation of three stimuli with, unbeknownst to the participant, some triplets occurring more frequently than others. In general, people learn to respond to the more frequent triplets faster without awareness that there’s any difference between sets. In other words, they learn implicitly. While they were performing this task, their brains were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI).

 

The researchers found that for the younger group, there was no significant relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning. On the other hand, the older group had a significant relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning with the higher the mindfulness score, the lower the score on the Triplets Learning Task. Hence, mindfulness disrupted implicit learning in older but not younger participants.

 

Investigating the brain scans of this older group, they found that the degree of relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning was related to the level of connectivity between the Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe, a system previously shown to be associated with implicit learning. In particular, the greater the connectivity the better the implicit learning, but the greater the mindfulness, the lower the connectivity. A further mediational analysis indicated that the negative influence of mindfulness on implicit learning was mediated by its negative effect on the connectivity. In other words, mindfulness changed the brain which resulted in disruption of implicit learning.

 

These are complicated findings. But, they are particularly interesting as they suggest that mindfulness effects the brain and this produces the behavioral effects. The results suggest that the disruptive influence of mindfulness on implicit learning occurs primarily in older adults and that it is mediated by mindfulness’ negative influence on the functional connectivity of the Caudate Nucleus with the Medial Temporal Lobe. It is known that there is deterioration in the Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe with aging. It is possible, then, that mindfulness can only exert its disruptive effects when there is an already weakened Caudate Nucleus – Medial Temporal Lobe system present.

 

It is interesting that mindfulness did not disrupt implicit learning in the younger participants. This might explain why mindfulness training improves athletic performance. Athletes are generally young and the lack of disruption of implicit learning by mindfulness allows mindfulness to produce psychological enhancements that improve performance. This might not be true for older athletes.

 

Regardless, it is clear that mindfulness disrupts the establishment of automatic unconscious habits in older adults as a result of its negative effects on the interaction of two brain areas, Caudate Nucleus and the Medial Temporal Lobe.

 

people reporting low on the mindfulness scale tended to learn more—their reaction times were quicker in targeting events that occurred more often within a context of preceding events than those that occurred less often.” – Georgetown University Medical Center

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Stillman, C. M., You, X., Seaman, K. L., Vaidya, C. J., Howard, J. H., & Howard, D. V. (2016). Task-Related Functional Connectivity of the Caudate Mediates the Association Between Trait Mindfulness and Implicit Learning In Older Adults. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 16(4), 736–753. http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-016-0427-2

 

Abstract

Accumulating evidence shows a positive relationship between mindfulness and explicit cognitive functioning, i.e., that which occurs with conscious intent and awareness. However, recent evidence suggests that there may be a negative relationship between mindfulness and implicit types of learning, or those that occur without conscious awareness or intent. Here we examined the neural mechanisms underlying the recently reported negative relationship between dispositional mindfulness and implicit probabilistic sequence learning in both younger and older adults. We tested the hypothesis that the relationship is mediated by communication, or functional connectivity, of brain regions once traditionally considered to be central to dissociable learning systems: the caudate, medial temporal lobe (MTL), and prefrontal cortex (PFC). We first replicated the negative relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning in a sample of healthy older adults (60–90 years old) who completed three event-related runs of an implicit sequence learning task. Then, using a seed-based connectivity approach, we identified task-related connectivity associated with individual differences in both learning and mindfulness. The main finding was that caudate-MTL connectivity (bilaterally) was positively correlated with learning and negatively correlated with mindfulness. Further, the strength of task-related connectivity between these regions mediated the negative relationship between mindfulness and learning. This pattern of results was limited to the older adults. Thus, at least in healthy older adults, the functional communication between two interactive learning-relevant systems can account for the relationship between mindfulness and implicit probabilistic sequence learning.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4955759/

Stay Mentally Fit as you Age with Tai Chi

What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here? – Goldie Hawn

 

Aging inevitably involves declining physical and mental ability. Starting in the late twenties the body, including the brain begins a process of slow deterioration. There is no known treatment to prevent this decline. There are, however, things that can be done to slow the progression. For example, a healthy diet and a regular program of exercise can slow the physical decline of the body with aging.

 

Our mental abilities may also decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. In sum these are called age related cognitive decline. This occurs to everyone as they age, but to varying degrees. Some deteriorate into a dementia, while others maintain high levels of cognitive capacity into very advanced ages. It is estimated that around 30% of the elderly show significant age related cognitive decline. But, remember that this also means that 70% of the elderly retain reasonable levels of cognitive ability.

 

There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. Tai Chi is an ancient eastern practice involving slow mindful movements. It is both a gentle exercise and a contemplative practice that improves mindfulness. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/cognition/) while Tai Chi or Qigong practice has been shown to be beneficial for healthy aging (see links below). It would seem reasonable to hypothesize that Tai Chi practice might decrease age related cognitive decline.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Impact of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1121070961250162/?type=3&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055508/?report=classic

Wayne and colleagues review the published research on the application of Tai Chi to reduce age related cognitive decline in both elderly individuals who have already demonstrated cognitive decline and those who have not. They found that Tai Chi practice significantly reduced declines in executive function, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving and planning and execution. Tai Chi practice was also found to reduce declines in overall global cognitive function, including learning and memory, mathematical ability and semantic fluency. In addition, these improvements related to Tai Chi practice occurred in both individuals who had already experienced cognitive decline and those who had not. Importantly, these benefits were provided without any significant adverse side effects.

 

Wayne and colleagues hypothesize that Tai Chi may be having its positive effects on cognition through a number of mechanisms. These include the exercise provided by the practice with associated improvements in agility and mobility, the learning of a new skill, the required attentional focus, shifting, and multi-tasking, the mindfulness practice, and the social context of Tai Chi. Any and all of these process involved in Tai Chi practice may be responsible for its cognitive benefits.

 

Regardless of the mechanism, it appears that Tai Chi is a safe and effective practice that reduces the rate of age related cognitive decline whether or not decline was already present. These are exciting findings as Tai Chi has been shown to have many physical benefits for the elderly (see links below). The fact that it also has cognitive benefits makes it an even better choice for practice by the elderly.

 

So practice Tai Chi and stay mentally fit as you age.

 

“Tai chi… might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice…has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” – Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publication, May, 2009

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Tai Chi and Qigong Effects on Aging Links

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/

Age Healthily with Qigong – Soothing Stress Responses

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/28/age-healthily-with-qigong-soothing-stress-responses/

Don’t get Stroked Practice Tai Chi

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/18/dont-get-stroked-practice-tai-chi/

Age Healthily – Treating Insomnia and Inflammation

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/06/age-healthily-treating-insomnia-and-inflammation/

Aging Healthily – Sleeping better with Mindful Movement Practice

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-sleeping-better-with-mindful-movement-practice/

 

Mindfulness Effects on Cognitive Function

 

Learn Less Implicitly with Mindfulness

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

When people think of learning they’re usually visualizing learning information like historical facts, peoples names, mathematical formulas, etc. But, there’s another very important form of learning, called implicit learning, which is learning how to perform automatic tasks rapidly and efficiently. Things like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, serving a tennis ball and tying your shoelaces all require implicit learning and memory.

Implicit learning requires the person to actually perform and practice a task to master it. Many athletic skills fall into this category. The skills are mastered with repetition so that they can be performed instinctively and mindlessly when needed. Once you’ve mastered hitting a ball with a bat you don’t have to think about the actual swing. You only need to make the decision to swing or not; the automatic system takes over from there. This is very effective. In fact athletes will tell you that if they think too much about what they’re doing they won’t do it as well.

Implicit learning also involves most mundane tasks that we perform constantly throughout our day. Walking, producing speech, even typing this sentence on a keyboard all involve implicitly learned skills. So, implicit learning is important and helps to reduce the cognitive load on our nervous system for everyday behaviors. We don’t have the think about them so we can devote our brain capacity to higher level thoughts and ideas.

It has been demonstrated that mindfulness helps with explicit learning, such as academic material. For example mindfulness training can improve college entrance exam scores in students. But, does mindfulness also help with implicit learning? In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness is associated with reduced implicit learning”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1080803475276911/?type=1&theater

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4140982/

Stillman and colleagues tackle this very question; investigating the relationship between mindfulness and implicit learning.

They found that mindfulness appeared to interfere with implicit learning, the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the score on implicit learning tasks. But, mindfulness was associated with positive outcomes such as lower depression, better overall health, episodic memory and inhibitory control. So, mindfulness appears to have many very positive effects but there appears to be a tradeoff. As the old saying goes ‘you don’t get something for nothing’. The benefits occur but there’s also a cost, lower ability for implicit learning.

To some extent this result makes sense. Implicit learning involves learning to perform an action without attention. Mindfulness involves learning to pay attention. So, the two would appear to be incompatible. Being better at paying attention in the present moment makes it more difficult to learn to not pay attention and learn implicitly.

There actually may be an upside to mindfulness interfering with implicit learning. There are a number of behaviors that we learn implicitly that we might call ‘bad habits.’ Mindfulness may interfere with the development with these also. Developing an addiction is a good example. It involves learning implicitly a myriad of behaviors elicited by certain environmental conditions. Interfering with implicit learning might interfere with acquiring an addiction. In fact, it has been shown that mindfulness training helps with kicking a bad habit, getting rid of an addiction.

So, be mindful, the plusses outweigh the minuses. You might not be as good at mastering an athletic skill, but your life will be much better in most other ways.

“Mindfulness may help prevent formation of automatic habits — which is done through implicit learning — because a mindful person is aware of what they are doing.” – Chelsea Stillman

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies