When your child has just been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder… or even if you’re further along the journey and someone suggests you take time out for yourself… many of us are screaming on the inside “oh yeah! WHERE do I fit that in?”
With children on the spectrum, even the thought of Meditation or Mindfulness can seem like too big a commitment for most of us. And quite frankly, when I was first taught breathing exercises to help reduce stress I was just like the woman on the previous page.
Thankfully I realised that Mindfulness doesn’t have to be about blanking the mind for what seems an eternity – or chanting OM over and over and over (I seriously do not have that kind of time).
Mindfulness can be just a couple of minutes of being still and focusing one’s attention on breathing, or guided imagery, or even just stopping to take a good look at 5 things around you, in order to connect and get centred in the present moment.
Mindfulness means bringing your attention to the present moment; paying attention in a purposeful way.
Which, when you think about it – few of us do. Especially when we’re juggling so many things. How often have you arrived somewhere and not remembered actually driving yourself there even though you know you did?
Mindfulness is about bringing your attention to the present moment in your day to day, as much as you possibly can.
Mindfulness is often linked to spirituality and given its roots in esoteric tradition that is perfectly understandable. However, therapeutic models are increasingly including a range of Mindfulness techniques into their practices.
In fact it’s a bit of a hot topic in Western psychology at the moment – go to the Beyond Blue or Black Dog Institute websites and you’ll find pages dedicated to helping the reader ‘become present.’
This is due to a growing body of research that supports Mindfulness-based therapies as effective ways to reduce stress, increase self- awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively handle painful thoughts and feelings. According to Dr Dan Siegel MD (author of Mindsight and Parenting from the Inside Out) “how we focus our attention actually helps to shape the structure of the brain.”
So the joke about ASD mums with the bulging frontal lobes may actually have some real basis.
Dr Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) says that Mindfulness skills are at the core of her work with the most- difficult-to-treat of our population – borderline personality and those on the verge of suicide
Linehan describes Mindfulness as the psychological and behavioural versions of meditation skills usually taught in eastern spiritual practices.
Mindfulness can be quick and easy to do once you get the hang of it and the benefits are plenty for anyone – and particularly for parents of ASD children.
Studies show that stress and challenging behaviours in ASD children – and stress levels in their parents exacerbate one another over time and I have experienced this for myself.
I’ve always been amazed that whilst we had to work very hard to teach our son verbal and non-verbal communication skills, he’s always been able to read my internal state with the ease of a psychic (if you believe in that kind of thing).
One of the most powerful ways to help our children learn to regulate is to pay attention to our own style of regulation.
When you consider the stress loop that so often occurs between mums and ASD kids… imagine the benefits for your child if you are practicing Mindfulness techniques. If you’re lucky enough to be able teach it to your child as well that’s definitely a bonus.
There are various techniques available. I use one each morning straight after the shower that takes only 2 minutes. I close my eyes and visualise white light coming through the top of my head and rushing right through my body, washing away every bit of stress.
The bathroom works well because it’s the one place I have some boundaries.
The ceiling light helps me visualise white light because I look straight into it and still see the brightness when I close my eyes. I focus on this imagery quite strongly just for a couple of minutes without anything else on my mind – just white light rushing through my entire being.
It is really that simple. And much like exercising, the hardest part is getting there; you have to remember to do it every day.
Once you do, you’ll find that it’s less and less of an effort and you may even be able to add more throughout the day.
Once I got the hang of it I then added the Notice 5 Things technique. Notice 5 Things is when you take a moment or two to really pay attention to 5 things around you – really look at them. Then focus on 5 things you can hear around you. You can go on and add the other senses as well but I find that seeing and hearing usually do it for me, to bring me out of the thinking ‘spin cycle’ and make me feel centred again.
I find that my self-awareness just keeps increasing as I practise Mindfulness – I notice things I never noticed before and I am awestruck by the beauty of nature; particularly our autumn trees right now (in Australia). I can truly see how the practise of being present enhances life, nature, and even our relationships.
Some people prefer the breathing technique (which simply requires you to focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes); some prefer visualisation (like the guided imagery I described) and some people like the Connection techniques (as in Notice 5 things).
One of my clients has been using the guided imagery I taught her with her little boy (who is on the spectrum) and he now asks for it when he’s feeling overwhelmed. He’s only 4 years old!
So… mind full or mindful? I think it’s a no brainer.
More information and resources on Mindfulness.
Smiling Mind (modern meditation for young people) offers trials of guided imagery for different age groups
Dr Dan Siegel (founder of the Mindsight Institute) provides a great tool called The Wheel of Awareness (if you’re seriously interested) but I’ll warn you that its around 20—25 minutes long.
The Drop Anchor technique and Notice 5 Things can be found here