How Mindfulness Helps with Asperger's Syndrome
By Lisa Muphy
Working as a Holistic Therapist at a residential school for primary up to 16 year old boys with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as the normal problems that come along with growing up and being a teen, I also encounter many anxiety issues and the need for strategies to help them calm and feel less anxious.
Combining mindfulness with my treatments (mainly reflexology and Indian head massage) has been incredibly beneficial. It’s given me extra ‘tools’ with which to work and meant that I can also just run purely relaxation sessions, whereby the boys can learn different relaxation techniques they can use outside of the sessions too.
It has been especially great with those students suffering from exam/coursework stress and the real worry of transitions and moving on from school etc. Generally when asked what you do to relax, the boys will see their ‘downtime’ as mainly gaming and going on the internet etc. Generally on-line gaming too, all being fast-paced and moving along with the ‘rat race’, rarely is it something within nature and although they see it as relaxing their bodies (“I play sitting on the sofa” etc.) it’s about teaching them the true meaning of ‘downtime’. It’s about teaching them that relaxation is not just lying around or playing games etc. but that like the body, the mind needs a break - looking after our minds as we would our bodies. Helping the realization that our thoughts have impact on our well-being.
A lot of the boys may surprisingly not have even experienced true relaxation and this can be a totally new feeling to them. Teaching them guided visualizations and progressive muscle relaxation has proved to be the best road in! This has been working so well in really allowing students to take a break from their busy thoughts and experience mindfulness, this has been a great way for them to experience it first-hand. The idea of ‘meditation’ can seem like a big thing and undressing it to a simpler level and breaking it down into much smaller exercises shows it’s so accessible for them. Using the breathe as a guide has worked well as a starting point and focus. Using the concepts of acceptance, so if we can’t get it first time knowing that’s okay and ‘being kind to ourselves’ also makes it far less scary. Also it’s about them having that self-worth to take care of themselves mentally as well as physically. Knowing they deserve that time out from life’s busy schedules.
I have used different CDs for guided meditations as well as just improvising to guide them through the stages of relaxation using the body scans. It’s been a real eye opener for many of them when telling them they can ‘go back to that place’ and capturing them in that moment of calm to reaffirm that. The differences observed before and after sessions are so noticeable in body language and the feedback from the boys themselves. This shows how powerful these mindfulness techniques can be. This also opens opportunities to ask them to observe how they feel, where they feel that in their bodies etc, to heighten awareness.
Using the ‘strawberry/champagne’ moments (also learnt within the mindfulness course) idea has been so great in devising individualized guided visualizations for the students. We have had sessions purely to devise these by working together. This has worked well by doing a big mind map (a great visual for them) of all that they are grateful for and what makes them happy, a real positive boost! Using and incorporating all the senses to create a mindfulness guided meditation. Then using that to make individualized guided meditation scripts. The older boys then have a visual of this script that they can go back to when needed and the younger boys keep them in their room so that care staff/parents can read them to them at night time or whenever needed. It’s been such a great tool for them and very personal to their needs and what helps them feel calm etc. So much emphasis is on the teaching of looking after our bodies (what we eat, exercise, hygiene, sex education etc) and this is great, but also to teach these children/teenagers the importance of our minds and how complex/what effect thoughts can have etc. This all builds self-worth, gratitude, living in the moment etc and the realization of the powerful mind-body connection. It is like they learn the ability to tap into a place they didn’t really know existed; somewhere they can retreat wherever they may be. Bringing us back to our true natural state. (outside of the internet, mobile phones and the gaming world) It’s a brilliant tool to equip them for life!
A Student’s Personalised Relaxation Script (Read in a slow, relaxed tone)
Ok, so just making sure you are in a comfortable space, you can either lie down on a mat or bed or sit in an upright fairly firm chair. Just so you are alert, but relaxed. Legs and arms uncrossed and arms loosely by your sides or rested on your lap. Just allowing your eyes to close now, if that feels comfortable.
Breathe in through your nose, nice and deeply ….and then slowly out through your mouth. Just let your shoulders feel loose and heavy and let your whole body start to relax, as we start to go on a journey now. We are going on a journey of the mind to your favourite place.
Imagine in your mind now that you are sitting back relaxing in a really comfortable deck chair at 5 star hotel. You have an umbrella to give you shade because the weather is hot and humid, just how you like it. It is the perfect temperature for you.
Your eyes are closed and you feel really happy and really relaxed. This is a place you can feel really peaceful and content. You can hear the sound of the leaves rustling in the palm trees around you and in the distance you can hear the waves softly lapping up onto the sand. You are resting by the hotel pool and next to you is a little table with a nice cool drink of lemonade. It tastes lovely. Feeling really relaxed.
You decide to explore, so slowly you walk through the hotel’s tropical garden of beautiful plants down a path and there in front of you is the most beautiful beach you have ever seen.
The beach is covered in very soft light golden sand and the sea is a wonderful blue. You wonder towards the sound of the waves softly lapping up upon the beach and the water is warm. You take a deep breath in and as you breathe out you just feel all of your worries slipping away in this beautiful place. You can smell sweet coconut sun cream in the air. Feeling so relaxed, feeling so calm.
You can smell the salty sea and as you peer into the water you can see lots of colourful fish, of blue, orange, red and yellow swimming under the water amongst the coral. Their colours sparkle under the water. You decide to step into the blue sparkling water, the water is quite still and calm today, you slowly lower yourself in and stretch out and float across the water. The water feels so lovely across your back, between your toes and your fingers. You rest here, floating in the warm water, feeling really peaceful, feeling really calm (pause for a few seconds). Then you decide to slowly walk out of the water and as you do you feel the warmth of sun as it dries you.
You decide to sit down on the beach. The temperature is just perfect here too. You stretch out and lie back on a large soft towel. Your feet are still in the sand and you can feel it’s softness between your toes and on the soles of your feet – warm and soft and you are feeling so comfortable. This is total relaxation.
Let your arms hang heavy by your sides and your head be heavy and supported. Let your legs feel heavy and your feet fall to the side. Feeling so relaxed and happy. Everything feels just right.
Just know you can come back to this feeling and this place again.
Take a minute to just lie and feel relaxed (silence for a short moment for as many seconds as you think ***** can manage, depending how relaxed he appears)
Now just start to wriggle your toes and now start to wriggle your fingers. Just starting to become aware of the room you are in.
Slowly opening your eyes when you are ready to and ever so gently sitting up. Take a big stretch if you need to.