Meditation has been praised for thousands of years about its amazing benefits of mental clarity, increasing self-esteem, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, helping depression and anxiety and giving you a greater appreciation for the little things in life.
However when it comes to meditation and autism, they are not often seen in the same sentence… am I right?
But can meditation make a big difference in helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a behavioral disorder where the sufferer struggles with social interactions, sensory issues, specific or ‘special’ interests and repetitive behaviors. They have a difficult time navigating everyday life while their peers appear to ‘breeze by’.
No matter what age you are, if you have autism, these struggles can impact the way we see ourselves and our world.
We might feel very isolated, confused and overwhelmed by the world around you. Meditation can help take the load off your shoulders. I believe, from my own research as well as the research done by others, that people on the spectrum, whether you are high functioning or low, can benefit from meditative practice.
This article will explain how meditation can have a positive impact on Autistic symptoms.
Firstly..what is meditation?
Meditation is about taking time out of our busy schedules to slow down and focus on our breathing, in doing so we engage our senses and root ourselves in the present moment.
This type of practice is also called mindfulness which has been proven to be a very effective tool in improving mental health.
You unlock the magic of the present moment and have a heightened understanding and awareness of what is happening within and around in each passing moment.
People who practice meditation regularly have a unique advantage over other people in that their brains have a better ability of focusing and can concentrate on certain topics for longer than non meditators.
Meditation is a workout for the brain which can strengthen the frontal cortex of the brain.
So what does this mean? Well it means they can process information much faster than someone who does not meditate.
This is especially important for someone who has autism as meditation could effectively help with prevent them getting burnt out from processing too much information – which can sometimes be a daily occurrence.
How does this help with autism?
Since people with ASD have a more difficult time focusing on things (other than on our special interest of course!) meditation might benefit them in lengthening their focus time and concentration. This is helpful when it comes to trying to focus in the lecture hall or doing any type of work.
Meditation can also help ‘ground’ people with ASD during times when they feel like they are about to have a meltdown caused by the brain not able to process so much information all at once.
Factors that can cause a meltdown are sensory overload or thinking about a million things that happened during the day, like a conversation that didn’t go well, or an embarrassing moment from their past that plays over and over in their mind.
This can cause the brain to go into hyper drive – a bit like when a computer is about to crash, except this crash is in the form of a mental breakdown.
By focusing on your breath you steer your mind away from being dragged into each individual thought. You just allow them to come and go. By practicing overtime, you strengthen your mind to recognize that thoughts are only that – just thoughts.
I have found that by focusing on my senses during an overload and staying with the breath, my brain seems to calm down a bit. Before it was the combination of my hyper thinking and worrying as well as the sensory overload that paralyzed me.
When you focus directly at that which is overwhelming you, and not focusing on the thought ‘this is too much’ you can actually disarm it, and you will begin to feel better.
Importance of the breath.
The breath is a very important gift we all have, but are rarely grateful for. We take it for granted most days which is very unfortunate.
The breath is a powerful tool that has been recognized as a method of controlling of thoughts and emotions superbly.
Check out this study done on how deep breathing can help with panic attacks: ‘Breathing control‘
How you breathe has a direct correlation to your health. The better you breathe, the healthier you are. Which makes sense when you think about it: when you are inhaling deeply, you get a better supply of oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body. The shallower your breath, the less oxygen gets delivered to your cells.
Similarly, when you exhale deeply you exhale more Carbon Dioxide waste from your cells which means if you don’t breathe out correctly some waste product still remains.
It has been proven that when we are anxious or fearful, we cannot breathe deeply. During these times when we feel fearful especially for people with ASD we need to consciously breathe deeply into our naval region. This sends a signal to our brain that everything is fine, and you will start to calm down.
How to meditate – helping with autistic symptoms.
- Find a quiet spot where there are no distractions. Sit or lie down comfortably. Close down your eyes.
- Breathe in to a count of 4 and feel your diaphragm expanding. If you find this difficult at first, focus on pushing your bellybutton up with your breath. Imagine a wave of breath arising from your bellybutton and ending in your nose.
- Focus on the pauses between the inhale and exhale.
- Gently, breathe out slowly to a count of 6. Repeat this a few times until you feel completely relaxed.
- Next, focus on your senses. What do you feel? Notice the weight texture, temperature etc of where you are lying or sitting down… What do you hear? smell? taste? Spend a few moments gently noticing each sense.
- Focus on your body sensations starting at your toes and moving all the way up through the body to the tip of your head. This helps create greater body awareness, sometimes people who suffer from ASD hold tension in their hands shoulders and neck so it is important to be aware of this and to release this energy build up.
I have left a video down below of a great meditation for people with autism to use.:
I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something of benefit. If you have any questions or comments you would like to leave please feel free to write them in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading, happy meditating! 🙂