This blog is recorded.  Just click on the following link.Dino Di Donato

Dino Di Donato, MFT, a specialist in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was a speaker at Parents Education Network in mid-May.  His topic:  Mindfulness-Based Approaches to Executive Functioning Challenges.  

Mindfulness is a skill that allows one to be less reactionary. Its primary force is teaching self regulation. Its derivation is Buddhist psychology and comes from Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, who founded Buddhism almost 2,500 years ago. In current day, mindfulness is often taught independent of any religious or cultural connotation. Mindfulness (meditation) is a way of paying attention, “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis” (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999, p. 68). This skill gives the person with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) tools for moment to moment self regulation of emotional, cognitive and behavior responses, essential for effective Executive Functioning.

When I think of Executive Functions my thoughts run to the responsibilities of the top echelon of a corporation. I have discovered that’s too limiting a perspective.  According to Wikipedia the term is employed by psychologists and neuroscientists to describe a loosely defined collection of brain processes that are responsible for planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition, initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting inappropriate actions, along with selecting relevant sensory information.

Mr. Di Donato further defines it as a neuropsychological term to describe higher level cognitive abilities enabling an individual to successfully engage in independent goal-directed behavior. Mr. Di Donato says there are longitudinal studies of those who meditate which support the theory that the function of neurological structures of the brain can change over time with cognitive practices relating to meditation.

A child or adult with ADHD and other diagnoses often reacts with inappropriate actions.  There are many reasons for this behavior.  Any person with or without ADHD can be impaired when he or she picks up the language of what they hear around them. The reason:  language serves to shape the development of an individual’s perception of their personal reality. If a parent uses the language of depression the child picks it up constructing their view of the world based on their parent’s reality. The problem is the child is not able to separate the message and the content. When this happens the limbic system, associated with the fight or flight response in the brain, releases adrenalin into the body which cannot then reasonably respond to the moment/event at hand. The child or adult with ADHA can go off on an emotional tangent without the benefit of the cognitive process supported by yet another part of the brain, the cortex.  

One developmental aspect of executive functioning Mr. Di Donato discussed was the need for verbal problem solving and learning for most individuals with ADHD.  The internal monologue that beings to develop in early childhood and grows into adulthood through executive functioning is generally delayed or limited for people with challenges to executive functions.  

Kids and adults with ADHD will see the broad pictures, and even see the relationships between things that other cannot see, but can’t find a way to describe it.  If they are male, their excitement may come across as arrogant. If they are female they might seems overly emotional. This difficulty in communication due to emotional overload can cause problems in school, the workplace as well as at home with the family. This is where mindfulness comes in. 

Mr. Di Donato had many suggestions for application of mindfulness theory for parents in the audience. One focused on how to help a kid with ADHD who constantly needs explanations to statement. e.g. A parent may say:  we have to leave.  The answer is: why? This kid wants to know how you came to this conclusion.  Even though you may not think you have the time to give the answer, if you break down the sequences and then synthesize the information, putting it back together again for the ADHD child chances are you will get cooperation. And, if you offer your child the opportunity to learn the skills of mindfulness this practice can shift what is going on in the brain and how the brain functions.

 Some scientific studies proving the value of mindfulness can be found at the following institutions:

Centers in the San Francisco Bay Area who teach Mindfulness for adults include:

Osher Center for Integrative Medicine:


California Pacific Medical Center’s Health and Wellness Center:


Spirit Rock:  www.spiritrock.org

First Universalist Church in San Francisco: Vipassana meditation group


And, for students in the San Francisco Bay Area check out:

Day Park School in Oakland and/or 

http://www.mindfulschools.org      Contact Laurie Grossman: 510 535 6746 Laurie@mindfulschools.org.

Dino Di Donato can be reached at dinomft@pacbell.net or 415 431 3466. 


Dino Di Donato’s discussion on mindfulness was the last PEN lecture for the 2010/2011 season. I find it encouraging that the PEN Lecture programmers pick up on concepts that are shared by speakers throughout the school year.  It is not uncommon that a new concept introduced by a speaker becomes a topic for another lecture.  Such was the case with this final lecture.  The concept was introduced by Todd Rose during his PEN lecture to school teachers. Soon after Dino Di Donato was invited to share mindfulness details with the PEN audience. These PEN programmers keep current!