What is meditation? Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and developed over time.
Meditation is a way to clear your mind. It helps you focus on the present moment and relax. You can do it in many ways, such as sitting quietly with your eyes closed, listening to music or reading, taking deep breaths, counting backward from 100, or repeating a mantra.
Meditation techniques are used for relaxation, stress relief, pain management, sleep improvement, and improving concentration.
Can meditation be used as a potential therapy for autism spectrum disorders?
Some studies have shown that mindfulness-based interventions may help improve social skills in children with ASD. MBIs include activities like yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation. These exercises involve focusing attention on one's breathing, body sensations, thoughts, emotions, and surroundings. They aim to increase awareness of the present moment and reduce rumination about past events.
There’s also evidence that MBIs can help decrease anxiety and depression in people who struggle with these conditions. In addition, they may help reduce aggression and impulsivity.
How does meditation work for autism?
A study published in 2014 found that adults with ASD showed improvements in their ability to regulate their attention after learning mindfulness meditation. The researchers suggested that this could be because mindfulness meditation trains participants to pay more attention to their own inner experiences and less attention to external stimuli.
The same study reported that individuals with ASD were able to better control their emotional responses when performing tasks requiring self-regulation. This suggests that mindfulness training might help them learn to manage their emotions better.
In another study, researchers found that an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation improved the social functioning of adolescents with ASD. Participants learned how to observe their emotions without reacting to them. They also practiced observing their thoughts and feelings while engaging in daily activities.
This type of practice teaches participants to become aware of their internal experiences and to recognize the difference between what is happening inside themselves and outside themselves.
6 benefits of meditation for people with autism
Among the most important benefits of mindfulness practices and meditation for people with autism are:
1. Improves social abilities.
Mindfulness meditation has been studied extensively for its effects on social behavior. A 2013 review article summarized research showing that mindfulness meditation improves social skills in people with ASD. For example, mindfulness meditation helped participants with ASD understand others' perspectives and respond appropriately to social situations.
2. Reduces stress.
Stress negatively affects brain development in people with ASD. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress by helping people develop coping strategies to deal with stressful situations. Research shows that mindfulness meditation helps people cope with stress by increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative ones.
3. Increases empathy.
People with ASD often lack empathy, which makes it difficult for them to relate to other people. Meditation increases empathy by teaching people to identify their feelings and those of others. It also helps individuals gain perspective on their own feelings and those of others, so they can see things from a different point of view.
4. Boosts focus and concentration.
Meditation helps people stay focused on the task at hand. When people meditate, they tend to think less about extraneous information and more about the current activity. This allows them to concentrate on the task at hand instead of being distracted by irrelevant details.
5. Helps reduce anxiety and boosts emotional health.
Anxiety is common among people with ASD. Meditation decreases anxiety by teaching people to accept their feelings and not try to change or control them. Instead, they learn to let go of worrying about the future and just live in the present moment.
6. Decreases repetitive behaviors.
Repetitive behaviors such as rocking back and forth, spinning around, or flapping one's hands are common in people with ASD. These behaviors may be caused by sensory issues, communication problems, or a desire to calm oneself. Meditation helps people regulate their emotions and learn to express themselves through appropriate means.
Is it difficult to teach autistic people to meditate?
It depends on the person. Some people with ASD have difficulty learning new concepts because they don't process information well. Others have trouble focusing on tasks that require deep thinking or struggle with abstract ideas and language.
Some people with ASD have good verbal skills but poor nonverbal skills. In this case, teaching them to communicate using gestures or pictures might help them better understand instructions. If you suspect your child has these types of challenges, talk to his doctor before trying any meditation techniques.
How to teach meditation to autistic children
Teaching mindfulness to children with autism can be a challenge. Here are some steps:
- Start small. If you're introducing meditation to a young child who doesn't speak yet, start with something simple like counting backward from 100. You can gradually increase the number each week until he's comfortable doing longer counts.
- Focus on the breath. Children with ASD often have breathing difficulties, making it hard for them to breathe deeply enough to calm down. To help them relax, encourage them to count breaths while sitting quietly.
- Make it a routine. Children with autism love routines so introducing meditation as a bedtime or morning routine could help.
- Use guided imagery. Guided imagery involves listening to music, watching videos, or reading stories that guide children to imagine relaxing scenes. For example, if you want your child to visualize himself floating in space, play him some peaceful music and tell him to close his eyes and listen carefully. He'll feel calmer when he opens his eyes again.
- Give your child time to practice and don't expect immediate results. For most kids, 5-10 minutes of daily practice will make a difference. If your child isn't ready to do it every day, set aside 10 minutes once or twice a week.
Yoga can also help people with autism
Yoga is another great way to improve mental health. It teaches people how to focus, relax, and build strength. The poses and positions used in yoga resemble those taught in meditation and improve balance, coordination, flexibility, and posture.
Yoga offers many benefits for people with autism including:
- Improves concentration and memory
- Helps reduce stress and anxiety
- Increases muscle tone and flexibility
- Reduces self-injurious behavior
- Teaches people how to manage their emotions
- Can help people with autism develop social skills
Yoga can be done at home or in a classroom setting. There are many different styles of yoga that use props such as blocks, blankets, straps, and bolsters. Many schools offer yoga classes for students with special needs.
Meditation vs. Yoga
Both meditation and yoga involve focused attention on an object or activity. Meditation focuses more on calming the mind and yoga focuses more on strengthening muscles. Both practices can be beneficial for people with autism. However, there are differences between the two.
Meditation is typically practiced by adults but can be useful for children too. Kids tend to find meditating easier than adults because they aren’t distracted by thoughts about food, sex, or other things that adult meditators might struggle with.
Kids may not understand what they are supposed to be focusing on during meditation. They may get frustrated trying to concentrate on one thing when they can’t stop thinking about something else. In contrast, yoga requires no effort to learn and is perfect for children who enjoy being active.
In addition, yoga tends to be less intimidating than meditation. Children usually like to try new activities, especially ones that look fun. Most kids won’t sit still long enough to meditate. On the other hand, they may spend hours practicing yoga poses without getting bored.
If you want to start either yoga or meditation, you can't do it without these useful items:
- Meditation cushion
- Tibetan singing bowl
- Mindsight 'Breathing Buddha'
- The 3 Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids
If you want to learn more about how a daily meditation practice can help children with autism, read this article.
Photo credit: Unsplash.