We hear a lot about Autism now a days. So much so that according to the CDC, 1 in 88 people have an ASD, autism spectrum disorder.
Meditation is truly a practice to quiet the mind. While transcendental meditation itself is not new, the initiative to bring the practice to those on the spectrum has definitely taken off in the past couple of years.
A UC Davis MIND study found that parents of children with autism do use alternative and complementary therapies more often than parents of children diagnosed with other developmental delays.
To practice transcendental meditation, a technique based on an ancient Indian tradition, you sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and silently repeat a sound or mantra that you learn from your teacher. “TM allows the mind and body to automatically settle down to a state of restful alertness,” said Bob Roth, executive director of the David Lynch Foundation and a longtime TM teacher.
“Those with ASD are in a state of chronic stress,” explained David Black, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Assessment and Treatment. While at this time the benefits of transcendental meditation are largely anecdotal for those with ASD, the research conducted with people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder show that this practice settles the sympathetic nervous system, can reduce blood pressure, and lessens reactiveness to stimuli. The experts emphasized thatASD is a stress-related condition since the four components of stress are novelty, unpredictability, perceived threat, and low sense of control. It’s the sensitivity to all of these that make those with ASD “wired to be stressed,” according to William Stixrud, Ph.D, a clinical neuropsychologist and President of the Stixrud Group.
It may sound counterintuitive that a child who cannot sit still would be able to meditate, but families report that after working with an instructor their child can do it. Many families have already seen changes in the behavior of their children on the spectrum.
Roberta Lowenstein and her 17-year-old son Joey—founders of the Joey Lowenstein Foundation—meditate together. Joey is nonverbal and when he first started to practice TM two years ago he was only able to sit for about 5 minute spurts. But after eight weeks, Joey was able to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Joey said (through his letterboard) that TM really helps him. He feels calmer. His mother has noted less outbursts. His grades in school have improved.
Roberta was shocked that her son was even able to sit down long enough to meditate. But he can, and he does. Children with ASD are able to meditate and find the calm within. “[The mind] is like the ocean,” said Bob Roth, Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation. “On the surface, the it’s is busy and noisy, but deeper, a calm exists. We use TM to access a deep state of calm which is already present in a person.” Scientifically, this meditation enlivens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which allows for more flexibility, sociability, and ability to cope with novelty.
I have learned and tried TM myself and it is really remarkable. Plus, as an instructor of children’s yoga and meditation, I have first hand seen changes in children, including those with ADHD. I always tell parents, it’s the least harmful treatment method you could at least give a try.