Chris Mitchell author of the new book Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome reflects on how mindfulness practices can help individuals with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) recognise their strengths.
Mindfulness techniques, including meditation and yoga stretches, are known to yield great benefits to those who experience depression and anxiety, including people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Far from being confined to guided structured practices done behind closed doors, mindfulness is accessible and can be practiced and applied in ordinary life situations. The strengths and qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome can aid the application of mindfulness to enhance the quality of life.
The concept of mindfulness is the art of paying non-judgemental attention to the present moment. Two aspects of mindfulness practice that I like, and that I have found conducive to my needs as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, are its simplicity and its flexibility. Its simplicity makes it accessible while its flexibility allows both the practice and application of mindfulness to be shaped around individual needs. Guided mindfulness practice sessions are a good start in developing and experiencing mindful awareness, including an understanding of how you are affected by Asperger’s Syndrome.
n presents. Certain strengths and qualities can be conAs well as noticing Asperger-related traits, obsessions and triggers when stepping back from the pace of everyday life during practices, the practice environment can also give a person with Asperger’s syndrome a place to gain a stronger understanding of who they are, including the ability to notice the strengths and qualities that their conditioducive to applying mindfulness into situations beyond practice, as well as to acknowledge weaknesses while not being constrained by them.
Living with Asperger’s Syndrome has many ups and downs, from feelings of confidence and optimism to low self-esteem and depression. Obsessive-compulsive tendencies may mean that one finds that they are trapped within such feelings, but applying some Asperger’s Syndrome strengths can also enable one to be present with these feelings. A personal strength that I feel I have, which has helped during my mindfulness exercises, is my attention to detail. I am able to notice different positive and negative feelings as they arise and am able to notice what attention I may give to them.
Gradually, in my life beyond practice, I have found that strong attention to detail has helped me to be more attentive to the present moment. I feel that this has enabled me to experience the fullness of the present moment in a way that also lets me to be at one with who I am as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, where I happen to be and the circumstances that I’m in.
When tuned into the present moment through mindfulness, it can help one recognise Asperger traits, including obsessive-compulsive tendencies, worries and anxieties with more clarity. It can give you the control as to how to act or respond to them. Focussing our feelings on the present moment is a starting point, but as well as simply giving our feelings attention, we must also understand that it’s the kind of attention we choose to pay to these thoughts and feelings that can affect our mood and actions.
In addition to mindful attention to detail, other strengths that Asperger’s Syndrome may reveal, include curiosity, persistence and high-levels of concentration – all of which can help with applying mindfulness to the present. Curiosity lets you open up to such feelings rather than be constrained by them or become frustrated by trying to eliminate feelings, especially those that are negative. Persistence is needed to overcome periods of depression or low self-esteem and together with an open, curious, approach to being with each moment of such a period, enables us to gain a stronger understanding of who we are, including how our emotions affect us.
As well as being aware of and being able to acknowledge any shortcomings that we may have, mindfulness, when applied with the strengths and qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome, it can also allow us to open up to the fullness of the present moment, thus enriching our lives.