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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

I’m Not Sure Autism and Meditation Mix

Let me start this by saying if you’re autistic and meditation works for you, great! Keep doing it. I’m glad it works for you. I would never want you or someone else to stop a positive practice that is helping your life.

But for me, meditation isn’t it.

I’ve tried numerous times throughout my life. I’ve read books. I’ve taken classes. I’ve downloaded apps. I’ve practiced with my therapist. I’ve lied on my floor. I’ve gone to temples.

There are so many different meditation styles and teachers that it’s impossible that I’ve tried them all. And I’m not going to keep trying them all, because I suspect meditation may not be the best practice for my autistic mind.

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares an illustration of the tension an autistic make experience when they try to meditate
"The Tension of Meditating" Marker by Jackie Schuld

One of the most common forms of meditation discussed in mental health is the practice of emptying your thoughts. If new thoughts enter your mind, you observe them, and let them pass by.

Autistics have A LOT of thoughts. Sometimes, doing this form of meditation can overwhelm an autistic. It can make them see how many thoughts they have. It can also make them feel frustrated and broken as they try to “release” the cascading thoughts. They wonder if they will ever get to a place of “emptiness.”

Many people would argue it’s exactly this kind of “overthinker” who needs this practice. That the practice will change the mind with time.

However, let us not confuse “overthinker” with “autistic.” Yes, we autistics think a lot. The key point though is that we are autistic. It is a neurotype. The way our brain functions is not likely going to change. Meditation may not have the same impact on us as a neurotypical. I wish there was a study done on this (if you’re aware of one, PLEASE let me know).

I suspect meditation is similar to gratitude lists. It might momentarily let you experience a moment of peace or upliftment, but your brain will go right back to what it’s doing after. It is used to taking in an inordinate amount of information about the world, and it will continue doing it.

If I were to encourage an autistic to do meditation, I would be far more likely to recommend a guided meditation. Something that can harness the focus of the autistic mind.

Even guided meditations though I wouldn’t hold as the key to life improvement. Maybe the actual problem with meditation is how people talk about it. I hear phrases like “it changed my life” and “I’m such a calmer person now.” They set the expectations pretty high.

I don’t think meditation will bring that to most autistic people.

I think an autistic person is far more likely to achieve those kinds of results through learning to work with their autistic mind. This looks like avoiding or limiting their exposure to items and places that cause sensory overwhelm. Other examples include structuring their day to honor their energy expenditure or making time for their special interests.

When we accept who we are and learn to structure our external world to meet our needs, we see far more improvements.


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