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This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder, characterizes itself with impaired social interactions and behaviors that tend to repeat themselves. Autism is quite common, according to the latest research done by the CDC.
In 2018, 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls received an autism diagnosis, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism. Although autism has no cure, we are fortunate enough to have various treatment plans to lean on for support.
Because individuals with autism are more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression, practicing mindfulness serves as quite an effective treatment method.
In this article, we will explore how mindfulness can help individuals with autism and their families.
The issue of anxiety within individuals with autism
Science has shown that the anxiety rates were three times higher as compared with adults with intellectual disabilities. Stress represents a big problem for individuals with autism, no matter their age. It is common for them to describe autism as a building-up internal sensation of tension.
A study published in 2003 has suggested that repetitive behavior serves as a management tool for these individuals when they face distress and anxiety. Shredding paper or clothes is an often seen repetitive behavior within these individuals.
The benefits of practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness represents an approach that teaches individuals to change the way that they think and feel about their life experiences, especially when they are in the middle of stressful situations. Techniques include breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. Mindfulness training teaches people how to be present at the moment and how to pay more attention to reduce their stress levels.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the current events and feelings, by practicing mindfulness, individuals can be aware and cope better with what is happening around them, thus reducing their stress and anxiety levels and managing their autism symptoms better.
Can mindfulness help individuals with autism?
So far, many scientific researchers are trying to explore the effects of mindfulness within individuals with autism, ranging from children and adolescents to adults and elderly individuals.
Mindfulness has been proven as helpful in cases of autism, from children to high-functioning adults. Besides, practicing mindfulness has also reflected positively on the parents’ state of mind, helping them, as well, to reduce their stress levels and practice mindful parenting from which their autistic children can benefit.
A mindfulness training over twelve months has led to a decline in stress and anxiety levels within parents and children, including a reduction in thought problems within children and an increase in quality of family time, according to research published in 2015.
But practicing mindfulness has not only helped by reducing anxiety, depression, stress, and aggression among individuals of all ages, it has also contributed to enhancing the positive affect and psychological well-being of these individuals and the people around them.
Practicing mindfulness has helped children, aged 8 to 19, to reduce their social communication problems, and improve their emotional and behavioral functioning.
Positive effects were seen among their parents as well in the form of improved parenting, and improved emotional and behavioral functioning, according to research conducted at the University of Amsterdam.
Simple steps for practicing mindfulness
Apart from joining a mindfulness training led by a professional, parents are also encouraged to peruse practicing mindfulness at home, in everyday situations that may cause anxiety to occur within an autistic child.
These techniques can also fit into a teenager’s or an adult’s everyday routine. In the following, we will share some essential steps and methods that can help anyone practice mindfulness.
Take ten breaths
When an individual is agitated, sometimes something as simple as taking ten breaths can help. In a situation when there are anxiety and stress is present, both the parent and the child can try to focus on taking ten breaths in and out together, following each other’s breathing rhythm.
Use a glitter jar
This is one of the techniques that are most suitable for children. Filling a pot with some water, baby oil, and glitter can be used during your next mindfulness training at home.
The anxious child can be asked to watch as the glitter settles down after you have shaken up the jar, similar to how their anxiety is expected to reduce in such a situation.
Practicing mindfulness before bed
Laying down in bed with closed eyes only to draw attention to different body parts is a great mindfulness technique. The individual can try to start by paying attention to his feet and work their way up to their head while becoming aware of every single body part.
Name five things in the room
Naming five elements in the room is a mindfulness technique that can be practiced alone or with somebody else. It involves listing five objects or more if the person is alone, as a way to become aware of one’s surroundings.
Also, by focusing on the environment, the individual can act to reduce his anxiety without being aware of it, only by directing his focus on something else at the moment.
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Mindfulness training is a recommended method for individuals of all ages that are struggling with autism. By practicing mindfulness, these individuals can act to reduce their stress levels and soothe their anxiety by learning how to control their emotions and actions rather than responding to them with anxiety, depression, and stress.
It is a technique that is helpful for both autism patients and their loved ones since it has a similar calming effect on anyone who peruses it.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed, MD holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.