Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why (and how) Mindfulness and Meditation Is Useful for People On the Autism Spectrum

I'd like to make a small post about some of the things that I have learned that have helped me to be calmer and happier as an aspie adult.  I see a lot of parents have the same concerns about their kid's emotional states that  I am beginning to learn to deal with.  Techniques, tips and strategies without relying solely on meds seems to be few and far between for parents out there that are struggling with aggression, anxiety and depression with their autistic child.  Other adults may also find some of these helpful.

Without making this entry into a long drawn out science seminar, I will try to briefly explain about what I've found in all my research, and experience.  I have often (and still do) wondered how I can be such a rational, very logical calm, kind person, except when I get triggered into being upset.  Take my body image and disordered eating for example... So illogical.  Makes absolutely no sense in the way I think about it, or behave.  I can sit here and tell you that in a calm way, without much feeling at this moment.  However, if something were to happen to trigger my anxiety about those issues, my obsessive/compulsive nature would be taking over and I'd not be so rational and calm anymore.  This happens to many people with strong emotions, such as anger and anxiety, but those of us on the spectrum can often find ourselves in the middle of a minor, or even major upset and not even always know what triggered it, much less what it's all about.  This is due in part to a condition known as alexithymia.

Of course, those of us on the spectrum do have feelings, very strong powerful feelings, just as anyone else. (Sometimes, I think possibly stronger, but how can one manage to measure emotional intensity? )  This leads to my next point: how we deal with them.  The part of the brain that deals in emotions is called the limbic system.  It can be furthered explained here in this article.  (I know that artcile was primarily about  love, but it highlights the very aspects of the automatic fight or flight patterns of the brain that I wanted to discuss here in this post.)

So, how does one get that space between pure emotionally driven behavior and higher levels of cognition?  After all this is the difference between making good choices and impulsive, regrettable choices.  This cushion of fragments in time where your cognition steps in noticing the first signs of upset in the body before the limbic system is flooded with neurochemicals is important in changing behavior.

There are lots of medications out there designed to help acheive that change.  Sometimes,they work, sometimes they don't , and others cause so many side effects that it's not an improvement on life.  I tried many, many meds and have never found one to work long term. That's why I have turned to relaxation techniques, like meditation.  I'll share some of the sites that I have found some tips and how to's.   See if any seem to be a good fit for you or your child.

Wildmind Buddhist Meditation  This site offers extensive tutorials and articles for anyone interested in learning to meditate and be more relaxed.

Mindful  Lots of tips and articles.

Tiny Buddha-always something insirational here


Mindfulkids

Bringing Mindfulness To Schools

6 comments:

  1. This is a great idea for a post. I'm an Aspie adult & I started practicing Buddhism about 10 years before diagnosis. It helped me maintain calm. I think my Aspie need to control my environment can really be offset by the notion that everything happens for a positive reason, and that the only moment is the present. It helps me go with the flow, which is something I am flat-out not wired to do.

    Also, Buddhism approaches humanity like a single organism. This never would have come naturally to me & it helped me think outside myself.

    I think your recommendation to teach little ones mindfulness & meditation is an excellent one.

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    1. Thinking outside of myself has been a big thing for me. I get so caught up so easily in a minor event that I can't get myself to rationally realize that it's really not that big of a deal and will be okay. Some of the teachings of Buddhism helped me with that as well.

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  2. I'm a meditation teacher and a 10-yr old boy I know (a child of a friend) is an Aspie - he has asked me if I would teach a class to him and a group of other kids who are all on the spectrum. I'm looking for adults who are on the spectrum who have worked with mindfulness practices to get guidance from personal experience (and the expertise of those who are mindfulness teachers) and would appreciate connecting. I can be reached at the contact email at the website below.
    Thanks!!

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    1. I am an adult with Asperger Syndrome. I have been the recipient of extreme workplace harassment and have found that Mindfulness practice every day has helped me to cope with the situation without medication. My sleep, which has been a lifelong problem for me has gone from averaging 4 hours a night to between 6 and 7 if I meditate just before bedtime. I also do a shorter meditation in the morning, allowing me to go to work in a calm frame of mind. It is after this session that I am able to make plans for the day without major stress if the plans must be changed. I find that breath mindfulness and foot mindfulness are simple techniques which I can practice in daily life. I am now at the stage where simply focussing on the breath on my lip is an immediate calming strategy. I still have a long way to go in terms of practicing when severe anxiety strikes in public, although I am managing this much more successfully at home. I think foot mindfulness has a lot of potential for people with intellectual disabilities and for young children. Actually there has been another unexpected benefit for me. I have had very poor proprioception and usually wore tight, heavy shoes to help awareness of where my feet were in space. I have much better body awareness now and rarely need my boots.I will be continuing my training as I would like to share this peace that I have found with other Autistics. :-)

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    2. That's great to hear! I feel much calmer, and much more aware of my body, too since starting Mindfulness. I however have never been very good at the meditating. I have tried, but it just never developed into practice.

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  3. I'd love to be of assistance, but I'm not sure where to contact you. I couldn't find a place on the page you directed me to to contact you. You can message me here on FB: http://inneraspie.blogspot.com .

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