Mindfulness Can Improve Attention and Decision Making Skills in Children With Autism, Study Finds
School-based mindfulness programs can help children with autism react less impulsively and improve their concentration and decision-making skills, according to a new study from researchers at Rutgers University. Often used therapeutically, mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
In their study, the Rutgers University researchers administered an 8-week mindful program to 27 high-functioning students with autism between 10 and 17 years old. All of the participants were students at Newmark, a New Jersey-based school for children with special needs. According to a report by News-Medical.net, the participants had the basic tenets of mindfulness explained to them, and were taught exercises to help with mindful breathing and focusing attention on the body, thoughts, and emotions.
Helen Genova, a lead investigator in the study, said that at the conclusion of the study she and her team “found that the children improved their executive functions like controlling emotions, maintaining self-control, focusing attention and being flexible in changing their perspectives." In its report, News-Medical described the study as the first to explore how a school-based mindfulness program that emphasizes self-awareness and controlled breathing can benefit children with autism. The study was published in the journal Research and Developmental Disabilities.
Regina Peter, Newmark’s co-Executive Director, shared her views on why mindfulness is so important and beneficial for students.
“Practicing mindfulness teaches our students the important skill of treating the moment as something that needs to be attended to and to let everything else go," she said. "The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it is a tool they can take out when they need it. It is not a medication with side effects, and it's free.”