5 Steps to Helping a Child with Autism Reach their Full Potential (Part 3 of 5): Meditation

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how important it is to avoid treating autism as a disorder because these gifted children are more emotionally sensitive than most and can possibly internalize negative opinions about themselves. In Part 2, we discussed the necessity of non-judgment and why we need to put non-judgment into practice through learning how to trust. In this article we will discuss how and why meditation is the simplest way to bring the idea of trust into the realm of experiential knowledge. We will start by discussing what meditation is not and then move on to what it is and how to do it.

There are some thoughts out there that meditation is some sort of Buddhist voodoo used to conjure demonic forces. Others believe that meditation is an activity of New Age hippies spending their days contemplating their navel. And still others take the point of view that sitting around and meditating is a complete waste of time and the antithesis to the productivity of Western culture. Every one of these points couldn’t be further from the truth.

What the practice of meditation sets out to achieve is the enhancement of your ability to foster trust from within yourself through the willful act of becoming intimate and accepting of the innermost workings of your mind. We live in a world of constant distraction from ourselves where social media and external technologies run our lives and every potentially addictive chemical – sugar, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, etc. – is within arm’s reach from the day we are born. A large part of the reason why we are so drawn to some or all of these external distractions is because we are unable to handle the confines of our own mind through the conditioned belief that there are distinctions between “good” thoughts and “bad” thoughts. The reality of the situation is that a thought is merely a thought and only becomes problematic when you either act on the thought or judge the thought as “good” or “bad” (If you’re familiar with Buddhism at all, this is what they mean by “attachment”).

Let’s do an exercise: read the following sentence and then stop reading for a moment: close your eyes for just a minute and observe your mind speaking to you as it always does, usually without ever taking a pause in the dialogue. Does anything strike you as interesting about that experience? Here’s another question for you: what is that thing that is capable of observing of the mind? We call that awareness and that awareness is the “real you.” Your mind is just a sense – like touch or or taste or smell – and exists only to help you function in this physical reality.

A lot of people think that the goal of meditation is to turn your mind off, but this is impossible as it is like trying to turn your taste buds off. This only leads to more frustration. The real purpose of meditation is to bridge the gap between these two parts of what it means to be “you” – your awareness and your senses (in particular, your mind) – so that your life moves with fluidity, ease, and purposefulness. Athletes refer to this perfect union between awareness and the senses as “the zone.” Currently, there is a massive movement out there that emphasizes the individual getting into “the flow,” which is the same thing as “the zone” but tailored for the non-athlete as well. These states are nothing more than moments when perfect trust in the mind – the hub for the physical senses – takes over. As I’ve mentioned before, it is through meditation that we can learn to separate our awareness from our senses so that we can be impartial and unaffected by the workings of the mind.

So how do we meditate? If you’re expecting a profound and elaborate description of what to do, you’re not going to get it in this article (but you can get it here). The reason behind this lack of detailed explanation is because meditation is the simplest – yet, ironically, the most challenging – thing you could ever do. To start, you sit down with your eyes closed and observe what you feel in your body. What are your hands feeling? What are your legs feeling? What does your breath feel like as it passes in and out of your body? If you pay close attention you will notice that even if your hands are not touching anything they are still feeling the air around them. You will also notice that your legs are always feeling the fabric of your pants whether you are aware of this or not. And you will realize that you spend most of your day breathing and being unaware of this fact. Trust comes into play when you try to sit down and simply observe what your body is feeling without putting any judgment upon the observation (this is where the cliche “it is what it is” comes into play). The mind doesn’t like non-judgmental observation for some reason and wants to take control of your attention. It tries to do this by getting you to fantasize about a promotion or what you should have done to the person who cut you off or whether or not you should risk it and go to McDonald’s anyway. None of those thoughts are here, in the present moment. They are from the future or the past which is currently nowhere around you. The mind tries to get you to think that thinking about these things is a good way to spend your time. In effect, however, focusing – or “attaching” – to these past or future thoughts is an attempt to control the reality around you and is the epitome of not trusting or, as we’ve talked about before, judgment. And trust comes into play each time you exercise your free will and choose to come back to the observation of what your physical body is feeling in this particular moment.

I’ve practiced meditation personally and know from experience the positive results that this type of trust brings. Additionally, I intimately understand the benefits meditation can bring to a mind both gifted and suffering from the bombardment of autism. A child with autism has a mind that never quits, and in order for such a being to come to learn how to master his or her own gifted mind it is important that he or she trust that they needn’t control the mind itself; they merely need to learn and practice the art of letting go (aka non-judgment, aka non-attachment, aka trust). And the most effective way to get a child to practice meditation is for the parent or parents to begin practicing themselves, as children with autism are also incredibly gifted in the art of mimicry. As we all know they scoff at the concept of “do as I say, not as I do.” Well, parents, here is one thing that you can do that will benefit everyone around you, including yourself.

In Part 4 we will discuss the importance of going against our cultural expectation of demanding immediate and exorbitant results. In short, we are going to learn why setting no expectations for progress is the expectation that needs to be set. Until then, remember that it’s about progress, not perfection!


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