High functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome, is still a deeply misunderstood condition. Even the prevalence statistics continue to shift, as scientists and medical professionals learn more about it. Prevalence is largely unknown, especially in developing and poor nations. So I will refrain from quoting any statistics. But it is generally believed that 2 to 3% of the population are on the autism spectrum.
For these reasons, those diagnosed are pretty much on their own to navigate the world, at least for now. Several ways of help and therapy are available in developed nations, but such efforts can only help so much when the scientific understandings of autism spectrum disorder are not progressing soon enough.
Why You Should Care
I would argue that it is not just autistic individuals who suffer, but in a way, the whole world loses out profoundly when these individuals do not receive the kind of support that they need. High functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome by definition recognizes that the individuals range from average to highly intelligent. It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the fact that we are socially handicapped, not intellectually, because their intuitions tell them that it is not possible to be exceptionally good at mathematics, music or language and not have basic social skills or what is generally termed as “common sense”. We are only seen as perfectly normal people who are slightly peculiar, weird, aloof or arrogant. The media, on the other hand, portray us as fascinatingly gifted and peculiar individuals, leading many people to think that everyone with autism also has Savant Syndrome, whereas, in reality, most of us have no special talents or abilities. My respect and thanks go to series like “The Good Doctor” that although is a bit too sentimental for my taste, showcases an accurate, sincere and sensitive portrayal of the condition, while shedding light on the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis owing to peoples’ ignorance, and also seeming to make an earnest attempt at social education and envisioning beautiful possibilities of inclusion and social integration for people on the spectrum.
What Autism Can Bring to the World
While the autistic community is thankful for such efforts at social awareness, we need many other kinds of everyday support to cope with life and bring out our latent potentials. I am convinced that the practise of mindfulness meditation holds great promise at making our lives a lot easier. I accidentally stumbled upon the benefits of this practise about a decade ago and since then, my life has never been the same. Well, it’s a lot more like how a normal life should be, which is why I earnestly wish to bring this knowledge to other high functioning autistic people like myself. I don’t see any reason to wait for the neurotypical world to put much thought or effort into accommodating us. We have to help each other. Neuroscientist Henry Markram observed his autistic son and proposed to the world that as opposed to mental retardation, autistic brains in fact, process too much information leading to hyper-processing, hyper-memory, hyper-emotionality, hyper-attention and hyper-perception, leading to hyper-preferences and overly selective states with each new experience, especially emotionally charged experiences and trauma. This obsessively detail-oriented information processing of fragments of the world by the autist systematically and involuntarily disconnects the autist from the world, while he becomes trapped in a limited, but highly secure internal world with minimal extremes and surprises. This severity of experience, called “The Intense World Theory” of autism. While many people criticised Makram for proposing that autistic children be given a lower stimulating controlled environment than neurotypical children, fearing that his approach may hinder developmental progress for autistic children, I am strongly convinced that he is right. Although post-mortem diagnosis can’t be definitive, there are strong speculations that Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and many other of the greatest minds the world has ever seen were autistic. We have also heard stories where these people had profound social difficulties and were written off as hopeless students by their teachers and peers, until they somehow found themselves in the right environments and the geniuses in them seemingly emerged out of nowhere. We are constantly told to take inspiration from these tales and believe that it is never too late for ourselves too to, regardless of whoever may not believe in us, which is all very good! But why is no one asking what it is about these people that kept their geniuses from emerging all through their schooling years? What kind of difficulties must they have faced that must have drained their focus and attention? What if they had never found the right environments? How many Einsteins must currently be struggling for the very same reasons today, being completely over-looked by us?
How Meditation Can Help
I do not claim to know anything about Einstein’s experience of the world or that meditation solves everything, but these are questions worth asking and solutions worth pursuing. Autism is merely a neurological difference by birth, not something that needs a “cure”. In fact, nurtured and channelled right, it can even be a gift. In that meditation can surely help. Current therapeutic efforts are mostly directed at forcibly teaching autistic people to somehow learn to behave “normally” so that they can be better integrated and “accepted” into society and workplaces. I personally feel that while some degree of social learning is important, our efforts shall be more fruitfully spent in personal development and excellence, and the onus of social integration should fall on sensitizing the majority to our innocent differences and harmless quirks. Many people on the spectrum have co-morbid conditions like depression, panic attacks and PTSD. Meditation works as a highly effective grounding technique to find relief and is the best way I know to create a much-needed disassociation with intense situations at times. In my experience, regular mindfulness meditation practise has also been the most effective strategy to cope when I’m overwhelmed by sensory stimulation and have to take a time-out. Although I am not in a position to be certain, I strongly feel that if meditation can be taught to my lower functioning counterparts, it might also help with their meltdowns.
Mindfulness meditation is no magic cure for autism. I urge all parents to celebrate their special children and not fall into the trap of setting them up for a lifetime of pointless dedicated learning to mimic neurotypical people which they are never going to be. Meditation will help them be the best versions of themselves. It has been a blessing in my life and can be in yours too.