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Mindfulness and Autism

By Abeer H. Ezzeddine

A fairly recent study shows a “mindfulness” program for autistic children and their parents provides a direct and long- term improvements.

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly

acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. For Muslims and

Christians who pray, an element of mindfulness is naturally infused in

one's prayer.

reflect on our conscious existence and our existence in relation to the natural environment and with other human beings around us.

Another way I can describe it is when we take time to

I always think about myself, the environment and the people

around me, what is the big deal about a mindfulness program? The difference is that when you practice mindfulness on a routine basis, taking time from your day to actually mediate or pray, you become more mindful throughout your day. To put this in perspective, have you ever had an interaction with a person that was not as friendly as you would have liked it to be? After having an opportunity to reflect you may re-approach that person to apologize or to make the relationship more peaceful. What if your always busy with your work, school, or other tasks or social responsibilities, you may miss that opportunity to reflect, whereas when you designate time on a routine basis you are always having that opportunity to think about your emotions, your existence, and your relations with others. Thus, setting a time on a regular basis to reflect with oneself, one become more mindful throughout their day and through-out their life.

What is Autism? Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood and remains throughout adult life. It is characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. Fundamental to human development at many levels is the human ability to read minds and predict other peoples' intentions, this requires a specialized network of neurons in the frontal cortex of the brain called the “mirror system”. These neurons are active when one performs a certain task but also when one observes the same task performed by others. From this, the brain forms a theory of the another person's mind using one's own experience, which enables imitation learning, empathy towards other human beings, and plays a critical role in the formation of language. Imitation is an early milestone in child development, and impaired socialization and lack of imitative play in children with autism are among the diagnostic criteria for the disability. In autism, this network of neurons is underdeveloped, resulting in deficient copying skills and the inability to recognize and interpret of minds of other persons.

A child's autism diagnosis affects every member of the family in

different ways. Parents/caregivers must now place their primary focus on helping their child with autism, which may put stress on their marriage, other children, employment, finances, and personal relationships and responsibilities. As much as we need to cope and

treat the child's autism, equally important is treating the parents added stress and their overall mental health.

In a recently published study at the Research Institute of Child Development and Education at the University of Amsterdam, which followed forty-five children with autistic spectrum disorders from the age of 8 through the age of 19 to see the effectiveness of a mindfulness program on both the parents and the autistic child who preformed mindfulness programs along with their parents. The study showed parents had an improvement in emotional and behavioral functions, improvement in the effectiveness of their parenting, specifically, over-activity and stress about their competence in parenting were decreased. Also, the parents' mindful awareness, as described in the mindfulness definition above also increased. Surprisingly, the autistic child did not report significant changes in mindful awareness, however, what is significant is that the child's social communication problems decreased, and their emotional and behavioral functioning improved, which included their internalizing, externalizing, attention problems, rumination, stress, and emotional well-being.

Preforming a mindfulness exercise with an autistic child can be a challenge because of the inherent limitations in the child's ability to mirror the parents. Forcing anyone, albeit a child with autism, to pray or meditate in all likelihood will fail. However, if the parents approach the mindfulness exercise in a manner that is part of the parent's natural household order and part of the parents daily life and activity, they will set an environment that is naturally conducive to encourage mindfulness by the autistic child on his own. For example, when its time to meditate or pray, all the distractions such as electronic devises and televisions are turned off, the lighting is reduced, and all toys are put away; creating a certain time during the day where both the parent and the child are availing themselves the opportunity to be in a peaceful and quiet environment to self reflect and be mindful.

and quiet environment to self reflect and be mindful. About the Author Abeer is a Specialist
and quiet environment to self reflect and be mindful. About the Author Abeer is a Specialist

About the Author

Abeer is a Specialist in Childhood Education, she received her Bachelor of Education Majoring in Early Childhood Education at the Lebanese International University. Abeer consults non- profit organization, NGOs, and public institutions dealing with children with special needs and is also involved in various activities to raise awareness to many social problems affecting children. Show your support for children with needs by following me #childrenawarneness_