'Mindfulness' for reducing aggressive behaviour in people with developmental disabilities

A very ancient and effective practice - mindfulness - is being given a new and surprising application. For the first time ever, mindfulness is being used to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behaviour in people with developmental disabilities as well as mental health problems.

NADD (national association for the dually diagnosed), a North American association for persons with developmental disabilities and mental health needs, is bringing experts in this innovative research on the salutary effects of mindfulness to its 2010 International Congress in Toronto this week.

Approximately 380,000 Canadians live with Dual Diagnosis, coping with developmental disabilities such as downs syndrome, fetal Alcohol syndrome or autism spectrum disorders at the same time as mental health challenges like depression or bipolar disorder. Some of them are non-verbal. For a small but significant minority of these individuals, serious aggressive behaviours or self-injury are a significant problem, often related to frustrated communications.

In those cases where aggression is a significant issue, it takes its toll on the individual with Dual Diagnosis and their caregivers. When the aggression cannot be averted through positive behaviour management, common interventions include medications, restraints, or crisis services.

"These forms of intervention can have significant costs to the individual, as well as to those supporting that individual. Caregivers get burnt out," said Susan Morris, Clinical Director of the Dual Diagnosis Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one of the sponsors of the NADD Congress. "Mindfulness offers a different way to respond to the issue: an ancient practice, but with a new application to this population."

Interventions with a mindfulness component offer people a way to respond to stress in their lives, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, recognizing that there is choice in how we respond to our experiences, even the negative or difficult ones. There is ample evidence that mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches can help people deal with both physical and psychological difficulties.

Research by Senior Scientist Dr. Nirbhay N. Singh of the ONE Research Institute in Virginia has demonstrated that the impact that aggression has on the caregiver in turn impacts how responsive the caregiver can be to the person who is aggressive. It also indicates that caregivers who are trained in mindfulness can have an effect on the aggressive behaviours of those they care for, based on the way they interact with them. It seems that mindfulness has a spin-off effect from the caregiver to the patient.

Dr. Singh, along with Professor of Psychology and mindfulness researcher Dr. Richard Hastings of Bangor University in Wales, will be presenting the latest evidence for using mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions to support individuals with Dual Diagnosis and their caregivers during the NADD Congress' plenary session on Thursday April 15.

"There is a critical need for interventions that prevent aggression from being serious enough to warrant any kind of restraint or emergency response. Mindfulness is sometimes referred to as the 'third wave' of behavioural therapies for people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers, and clinicians are excited to hear what Drs. Singh and Hastings have to share," says Susan Morris. "This is why we come together - to learn about what others in the field are doing to improve the care, treatment and quality of life of our patients, families and staff."

The Congress runs from April 14, 2010 - April, 16, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Toronto on King (370 King St. West). The theme of this year's congress is Innovations and Interventions in Mental Health Care in Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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