Mindfulness and Martial Arts Dissertation or Thesis Complete

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Mindful vs. traditional martial arts toward improved academic grades in children diagnosed with ADHD

While medication and psychotherapy are the current best practice in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their benefits and aim are too peripheral and topical -- neither resolving the neurological origin of deficits.

Moreover, many are opposed to these treatments and there are few substantiated and readily accepted alternatives. The consequences of ADHD have a ripple effect -- as does the lack of more palatable, efficacious, and proactive interventions for children with the disorder. Research has reported wide-ranging benefits for mindfulness and martial arts, independent of one another, yet research addressing the potential academic benefits of integrating these disciplines for ADHD children has not been found. Based on Siegel's neurological theory of mindfulness, the executive dysfunction model of ADHD, and research on mindfulness and traditional martial arts, it is proposed that a clinical application of mindfulness-based martial arts will improve the academic performance of children diagnosed with ADHD by strengthening attention and behavioral control. I propose a 4-1/2-week intervention coupled with a 4-1/2-week post intervention observation period, where pre and post student report card grades and teacher ratings on the Brown ADD Scales will be collected to compare the differential impact between two martial arts interventions, differing only on the presence or absence of mindfulness training.

Table of Contents


Summary of Argument

Theoretical and Conceptual Questions


Statement of the Problem

Research Problem


Definition of Terms

Assumptions, Limitations, Delimitations


Description of Research Design




Data Analysis




Summary of Argument

More than one million young learners become sufficiently disillusioned, frightened or frustrated with their classroom experiences to the extent that they drop out of American schools every year (Matthews, Ponitz & Morrison, 2009). For instance, a White House press release emphasizes that, "Every school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school -- a total of 1.2 million students each year," most reporting that school was not interesting and did not motivate or inspire them ("President Obama announces," 2010, para 6). As many of these students can be identified by sixth grade ("President Obama announces," 2010), it is clear that much earlier and innovative efforts are needed to engage these students and offer them early exposure to success.

Family background may exceed a child's cognitive potential in being the greatest contributor to academic and behavioral success in school. In terms of educational disadvantage, Zill and West (2001) indicate the four most prominent risk factors include being from a single parent family, low income or welfare-dependent family, having parents who did not graduate high school, and parents who speak a language other than English in the home. As the presence of multiple risk factors are most suggestive of potential scholastic difficulties (Zill & West, 2001), it must be considered that the genetic linkage of ADHD may contribute to greater incidences of families with single parents of low income and poor education who often distance themselves from their child's schooling. Zill and West (2001) state that as these risk factors often repeat in families and are linked to poor educational outcomes, increased aggressive behavior, decreased graduation rates, and much lessened income in the adult workforce, early intervention is vital. "Providing a high quality education for all children is critical to America's economic future [and] is predicated on knowledge and innovation" (Obama, 2011).

This study proposes an investigation of the differential impact between a mindful martial art intervention and traditional martial art intervention on the academic performance and executive functioning (attention) of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Proponents of this ideal operate based on the assumption that young people who understand what is required of them to think critically and learn effectively can develop individual skills and strategies that promote improved academic outcomes (Schapiro & Livingston, 2000). Proponents of this approach also emphasize the need for early interventions in order to maximize their efficacy. In this regard, Langer and Mondoveanu (2010) point out that, "Mindfulness research suggests immediate interventions to make classroom learning a more mindful experience" (p. 136). Moreover, studies of this type are needed more than ever because of the growing interest in mindfulness training, suggesting that some approaches may be superior to others depending on the setting. As Langer and Mondoveanu (2010) conclude, "Of the several ways to induce mindfulness, surely some are better than others.
We need to consider this with respect to particular populations and particular settings. Much research is necessary to understand and delineate the boundaries of the phenomenon" (p. 136). To this end, this study will contribute original research to the psychological, mindfulness, martial arts, and education literature because of the following reasons: (a) targets the critical paucity of research with and early interventions for children with disabilities, (b) will evaluate a more palatable and potentially efficacious alternative to the often parentally opposed treatments of medication and psychotherapy for children with ADHD, and (c) may offer a feasible means of potentially remediating the core neurological deficit of attention dysregulation in children with ADHD, rather than exclusively focusing on the management of surface symptoms.

In spite of the ADHD literature clearly conveying that children with the disorder face a multitude of struggles, the manner in which professionals and lay persons approach the disorder is often quite flawed. Of the children who pursue professional consultation for suspected ADHD, few are evaluated comprehensively or by a mental health professional and few comorbid mental health conditions are identified, though present more often than not (DuPaul, 2009, 2008). Coupled with the lack of proactive interventions in early childhood, these flaws lead to inaccurate diagnosis and unsuccessful treatment -- if any at all, given frequent parental opposition to and social and cultural stigma toward medication and psychotherapy. Specifically, few children suspected of having ADHD are evaluated comprehensively, or by a mental health professional (DuPaul, 2009, 2008). Pediatricians, whom generally have limited mental health training, evaluate over two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD, of whom over half are immediately prescribed medication (Henrick, 2009). Although comorbid mental health conditions are present more often than not with ADHD, few are identified or treated early and few early (proactive) interventions exist (Banks & Zionts, 2009; DuPaul, 2009, 2008; Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009; Kamphaus & Reynolds, 2007; Kelly & Aylward, 2005). Although considered best practice, few substantiated and readily accepted early interventions exist beyond psychotropic medication and traditional psychotherapy, which rarely are eagerly accepted, have social and cultural stigmas, are costly and inconvenient, and most importantly do not remediate core neurological deficits. Alternatively, there is a lack of proactive interventions in early childhood -- interventions that could minimize enduring symptoms or potentially alter the problem-ridden course of this typically lifelong disorder. Specifically, through review of the literature and in consultations with experts, no cost effective alternative is present.

As with many conditions, prognosis improves with timely intervention. Therefore, my primary motivation for investigating ADHD in children is to provide an effective early (proactive) intervention -- one that will minimize the high comorbidity rate and damaging frustration experienced by children and families struggling to cope with this condition. Prevalence is of course an additional motivation. National Resource Center on ADHD (2010) reports that 4.5 million children between the ages of 3 to 17 have ADHD. Educationally, these children must persistently manage a notable level of frustration, and when coping strategies fail, they can deteriorate academically, behaviorally, and/or socially and can profoundly impair the learning environment around them. Unmitigated, this can lead to a reciprocal escalation or proliferation of problems where students may "learn" to dislike school. Disengagement and other undesirable developments may amass over time, ultimately leading to teenagers, especially males, with an increased potential of adding to the unacceptably high school dropout rate (Matthews et al., 2009). The problem is clear: The failure to intervene early is costly, and thus the need for early intervention is critical. As these problems often take root early in elementary school, local schools may be the most efficient platform for timely intervention and prevention programs and martial arts offer a unique and promising approach (Zivin et al., 2001). Martial arts benefit youth in a variety of ways, yet beyond needed physical fitness, it also teaches students how to develop self-control (Walters, 1997).

Current research reveals that martial arts can be a powerful influence on children (Diamond & Lee, 2011; Lakes & Hoyt, 2004; Palermo, Di Luigi, Dal Forno, & Dominici, 2006). However, two primary dilemmas exist. First, while truly having become a widely recommended endeavor, martial arts are receiving indiscriminate recommendations, at great parental expense, and there is much room for improvement. A more scientific approach coupled with collaboration between parents, teachers, and martial arts instructors would be most advantageous. For example, Response-To-Intervention (RTI) and progress monitoring are mandated in schools.....

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