Meditation and Aspergers Syndrome – Some Things to Consider

I'm not a psychologist, doctor, counsellor or new age practitioner, and I have limited experience of meditation.

I'm a person first, and somewhere down the line I had a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS). My insight into AS is more critical than others. I feel our current body of knowledge batches us all into a sloppy pigeonhole, with which psychologists make overviews bordering on discriminatory. However, aspies is a syndrome that has affected my life in regards to social anxiety, spontaneous and intense focus on activities, occasional irritability, and reactions to environmental stimuli.

meditation for asperger

AS may or may not govern certain central thought processes I have. I have my own genetics, environmental conditioning and experiences that could take precedence in the hierachy of my neurology. However, I'm different than other AS types, so how can we get a central truth here?

Let's get down with the questions here: Does AS affect the meditation process? And as Aspies, can meditation offer us any benefits?

My thoughts coming into this article are that someone who's aspies might adapt meditation as one of their central interests to benefit them. We're renowned for our laser focus on particular subjects. If meditation is our subject, we'll want to know all the ins and outs of meditation. Maybe we'll develop a more refined understanding of ourselves and our connection with the universe, if we can train ourselves to let go. That's a big if.

I admit I rarely meditate these days, although I have practiced in the past. When practicing, I have felt relaxed and felt a deeper connection to the world. I'm able to visualise imaginary settings. I can let go of subjective thoughts and/or observe them from a detached space. There's nothing mystic about my practice. It's not about inner goddesses and accessing dimensional portals. It's about me, my body and mind, and how these relate with the solid world outside of me. That's all we've got to rely on.

However, my environment and body distract me to borderline irritability. There seems to be little in the way of governing these distractions, except through further practice and training. I personally lost patience with the practice. I attribute this more to my own laziness, which I have in abundance.

If you're after a clear answer to if meditation can help AS, I won't give you one. There's no hard and fast rules as to what AS types will get out of their practice outside of results every typical person achieves. People who are neurotypical (NT - the other side of the autism spectrum – “normal” people grounded in social conventions and empathic neurology) might or might not find meditation suits them for the same reasons one of AS might claim.

The best way we can further look into this outside of my own dogma and thoughts is by observing other AS people who have practiced meditation. I have two cases to start with for comparisons, Emma's and Kathleen's.

Emma - Author and Buddhist at Healthy Possibilities

Emma has 20+ years of meditation experience. She reports her experience of meditation as someone with AS was “different to others”. She is familiar with a range of Buddhist styles within the practice.

Emma reports three guided meditation sessions. In her first session, she was easily distracted by sounds and her discomfort, took direction literally, focused more on textures of what she saw and heard, was irritated by nuances of grammar in directions, and felt she had to pretend she was focused on meditating.

She was more comfortable in the second guided session, and had no trouble visualising her head as a balloon floating up to the ceiling. There was more of a connection between her own body moving through space and everything else placed in perspective. However, Emma felt discomfort visualising, as her balloon/head was going through the ceiling. She readjusted the direction to her own modifications in order to make herself more comfortable.

Emma claims that her overactive visualisation process was symptomatic of AS in literalising imaginary settings, recreating them with all their accompanying hazards. The relatively harmless setting of a beach with waves rolling in is therefore turned into a terrifying scenario where the water comes in relentlessly whilst lying down, and in summary was certainly not relaxing for Emma.

I am rather critical of objectifying this experience as anything symptomatic of AS, from my own experiences of the syndrome. Other AS types cannot seem to visualise imaginary settings at all. From my understanding, there are relative and individual degrees of aspies. Emma adhered to this stating she was a “visual” aspies. It could be observed from this remark that meditation experiences vary for individual cases of AS.

It would seem that Emma has been able to observe and identify certain thought patterns, which to me is one of the central reasons for meditation. She sees certain behavioral modes and makes these observations with honesty. Conversely, she seems unable to transcend irritability, and continues to modify and direct her thoughts according to her comfort levels and subjective programming.

There could theoretically be solutions here to expand her practice. Maybe her experiences might have been elevated if she guided her own practice? If she could identify her irritability from certain stimuli, could she train herself to gently release it through practice?

Is it possible her experience was different to others because she's just a different person? Emma's case could be one of being easily distracted and of having an overly vivid imagination, rather than testimony to any overriding syndrome.

Kathleen – Author and Practitioner at EducatorLabs

Teenager and AS type, Kathleen has practiced meditation for the last two years. She has claimed that her experiences have helped her discover and access new modes of behavior, whereas before she was struggling with making friends and wasn't performing well in school.

A teacher suggested she take up meditation as a way of combating anxiety he had observed within her. She dubiously took up the practice and reports being extremely happy she did.

Through her practice, Kathleen reports she was more easily able to set a fundamental routine to her day, which helped her immeasurably as she relies upon structure to handle life better. Conversely, she also says that she can now adapt easier if her routine should be broken circumstantially.

Her anxiety was progressively decreased through achieving an inner quiet outside of mind chatter. Her observations of the way her mind worked allowed her to identify her negative thought branches and how these affected her. Therefore, she was able to make decisions with more clarity outside of her more anxious modes of behavior.

With Kathleen, we can see positive results of meditation in testimony. She seems to be of a comparatively different type of AS than Emma. However, her account seems to be more of a narrative and progression of becoming a better person, perhaps as all teenagers seek to become in their journey to adulthood.

However, as we grow older, we identify that we are in fact flawed as humans, and life reveals we'll never achieve perfection. We as AS types will always have certain modes of behavior, which I don't really feel were touched too much on in Kathleen's account, which I feel make her account loose some credibility

In Conclusion

This is only the surface layer and we only have two accounts to go with here. There's a great many more accounts out there that tell other stories of differing styles and findings.

Kathleen's report was fairly limited in terms of subjective experience compared to Emma's, who gave more of a rich personal experience, complete with reporting her flaws without apology. Emma seems less guided to become a “better person” than Kathleen.

There is less preaching of the merits of meditation in Emma's account, and more honesty in telling us how her experience was. However, we also have to account Kathleen is younger and has a less developed authorial voice to really tell her accounts. Perhaps in effect, Kathleen's account was more a guided testimony rather than honest experience.

However, Kathleen seems to have recognised she can transcend her negative emotions through practice, whereas Emma reports that her irritability as being innate to her condition, so therefore something she cannot transcend through practice.

Overall, AS types seem more inclined to tell an earthy truth about their experiences, rather than telling (what I believe to be) falsehoods of mystical experiences, or governing social outcomes to impress upon people how much they're getting out of their practice or how enlightened they're becoming.

Well, we are after-all just mortal people, prone to distractions and detached thoughts outside of our practice. To me, the process of meditation is about the journey and about identifying our humanity.

Perhaps if we can isolate any nuances we have in our meditative experience, we can let go of negativity without attempting to modify and control our thoughts. Maybe then we can perform better in society without disability. It will vary from case to case, and the best we can do is be honest to ourselves.

I'd like to hear about your personal experience of meditation if you have AS, please feel free to leave comments below.

Written by Kristian Hatton

Melbourne, Australia's Kristian Hatton has 5 years experience writing articles of all kinds, from electronic music to astrology to biographies of CEOs. Amongst other things, Kristian DJs, plays board games, travels regularly, publishes his blog Haarp Media, and is for all intensive purposes a regular guy.

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