Tailoring Your Meditation Classes for Those with Aspergers Syndrome: A Resource for Teachers
Asperger’s Syndrome is traditionally regarded as a developmental issue and is classed as a ‘high functioning’ autism spectrum disorder. Some people, however, argue that Aspergers is not so much a disorder, but is in fact a different way of thinking where the emphasis is more on being creative rather than co-operative. Regardless of the definition and reasoning, there are often common characteristics that people with Aspergers exhibit, and an awareness of these along with strategies for catering for them in a meditation class will help your Asperger’s client to get the maximum benefit from your classes.
First and foremost don’t forget the importance of talking to people as individuals. Not everyone will have the same difficulties. Find out what your client hopes to achieve by learning to meditate and discuss what types of difficulties they have, (if any), with things like concentration, interacting with others, noise and smells. It’s possible that they may already know of a fix – they’ve had to deal with this all of their lives and of necessity have often become quite adept at tailoring solutions to help themselves get through situations that present problems. Letting them know that you’re aware of possible issues and that you’re open to working to resolve them can go a long way to allaying anxiety before your client even attends their first class.
The following are some of the more common traits that people can experience and some tips for dealing with them. Please keep in mind that everyone is an individual and as such may/may not require adjustments to classes.
- A lot of people with Aspergers find it easier to relate more to concrete concepts, as opposed to abstract ones. An example of this is an exercise involving visualisation: an instruction given to the class to imagine their body becoming lighter and lighter and floating up through the roof like a helium balloon may be impossible for someone with Aspergers to relate to because it’s just not possible for this to physically happen.
Having them focus on bodily sensations, however, such as their breathing and suggesting that they breathe away stress accompanied by an explanation of the way in which oxygenation of the brain allows for more clarity of thought, regulation of breathing and reduction of stress hormones may be just the thing they need to get them on the right track to successful meditation.
Ensure any meditation exercises you use are based on fact and reality, as opposed to abstract imagery.
- Some people with Aspergers may be fearful of certain situations, so it’s important to find out how they feel about interacting in a group and whether they have any specific fears. Adjusting class numbers and altering the meditation room as necessary to accommodate these things will go a long way to making them feel more comfortable and creating an environment that’s more conducive to learning. In the example given above, they may have a fear of heights and a propensity to take things literally could have them focussed more on how scary the experience would be, rather than on the sensation of lightness.
- Clients may be very literal. Your approach to this should go hand in hand with the discussion above about keeping concepts concrete, as opposed to abstract. Ensuring that you don’t include a lot of metaphors or similes in your speech will work to minimise any confusion.
- A lot of people who suffer from Aspergers become overstimulated very easily, resulting in heightened anxiety. Sources of hyperstimulation can include textures, sounds and smells. For this reason, it’s a good idea to ensure that the room in which you teach meditation has soft lighting, pleasing textures and that you don’t use any kind of perfume, incense or other scent that could prove irritating or distracting. Note external noise levels and when speaking, ensure that you’re making yourself heard above them. You don’t want your voice to blend in and have other sources of sound detracting from your instructions.
- If you know someone who has Aspergers, you may like to ask them to give the room a once over to ensure that you can adjust for anything that isn’t apparent to you. Of course, this won’t ensure that everybody who crosses your threshold won’t have difficulties, however it may help the majority.
- Try to follow the same routine in your classes as much as possible. Some people find it difficult to adjust to change, so when it’s necessary to cancel classes because of holidays or there’s a change of venue for some reason, make sure you give plenty of notice and reminders and let them know exactly what that means for them, as well as being prepared to discuss anything that might make it easier for them to accept. This will go a long way to decreasing their anxiety when the change actually takes place.
- If you’re working 1:1, keep in mind that they may have difficulty maintaining eye contact and experience difficulties reading your body language or facial expressions. This is true for group interaction as well, so it pays to be aware of, and sensitive to, the needs of your clients and spell out group rules in a tactful manner that doesn’t make them feel singled out for attention.
Keeping the above suggestions in mind when catering to those with Aspergers will make the classes more enjoyable for everyone concerned, give them a sense of achievement and allow them to experience the benefits of regular meditation and mindfulness practice. In fact, it’s possible that they may get even more out of your classes because of the invaluable techniques that help to combat their increased anxiety and sensitivity.
“Meditation for Aspies: Everyday Techniques to Help People with Asperger Syndrome Take Control and Improve their Lives” is a book I found about leaning to meditate which was written by a woman who has Asperger’s Syndrome. From what I read in the “Look Inside” section of the Amazon page it looks very thorough and practical. As a matter of fact I have ordered it for myself.
Once again, I would like to thank the folks at Asperger Experts for the following quote they provided me when I contacted them:
Meditation and many forms of somatic experiencing are terrific ways to help the AS individual process out their sensations. Generally speaking, one has a tendency to resist internal/external stimulations without letting them process through as the body naturally wants to do. Sitting with one’s sensations and consciously processing them out in a comfortable, safe environment is a fantastic way to work through these challenges.
May your classes always be full of happy, mindful clients who are content and able to find peace whenever they feel the need.
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