At present, mind-body therapies (such as mindfulness and meditation) are often used with and by autistic children and adults. There are research studies that show the efficacy of mindfulness therapy adapted for autistic individuals. For example, mindfulness-based interventions can lead to self-reported improvements in self-compassion, and reduced levels of distress in autistic adults (Lunsky et al. 2022); a significant decrease in self-injurious and aggressive/destructive behaviours in adults with ASD and intellectual disability (Gandía-Abellán et al. 2022).
CBT & mindfulness
Cognitive behaviour therapy, modified to the cognitive profile of individuals with Asperger syndrome may also be beneficial for them. Cognitive behavioural therapies and mindfulness are both promising treatment methods for reducing comorbid anxiety and depression in adults with ASD (Sizzo & Kuiper 2017). Cognitive behavioural components, integrated into a yoga-based programme can improve behavioural-emotional outcomes in autistic children, with significant gains in regulating their overall executive control, a reduction in some of the sleep problems, an improved ability to communicate their feelings and willingness to analyse their emotions post-intervention (Tanksale et al. 2021). Thus, the research shows that mindfulness-based interventions could be a useful alternative to traditional behaviour management interventions for reducing behaviour problems in this population.
There are several types of it available, each using different degrees of focused attention on a variety of objects to reach a clear, meditative mind. They all share the objective of self-relaxation, self-healing and consequently, improved cognitive and behavioural performance. Some researchers consider meditation as a potential therapy for autism. At present, there are a few research papers on this, and most reports are anecdotal. For example, mantra meditation may be most useful in young children (between 3 and 14 years of age) to improve health outcomes (Sequeira, Ahmed 2012); Transcendental Meditation may be helpful for some young adults with ASDs (e.g., Kurtz 2011; Black & Rosenthal 2015). Family interest in the practice has an impact on the adherence of the participant to the programme and consequence in better results. The individuals who adopt meditation as part of their daily life routine can show results in a reduction of stress and anxiety and a better focus, prosocial improvements in the class environment, and better communication at home with family members (Descamps 2022).
Programmes for both autistic children and their parents
As parenting a child with ASD can be stressful and result in health consequences for the caregivers, there have been developed mindfulness-based programmes for both autistic children and their parents as well (e.g. Ridderinkhof et al. 2018; Hatfield et al. 2022). Parents reported improvements not only in their children, but also in their own emotional and behavioral functioning, and parenting.
There are also mindfulness interventions for parents of autistic adults (Lunsky et al. 2017) and mindfulness and yoga programmes to promote health outcomes in parents of autistic children.
However, the current research has some limitations, including small sample sizes (Hourston, Atchley 2017; Semple 2020). While more research is needed, mind-body therapies have shown beneficial outcomes in measures of social, emotional, psychological, and behavioural domains. They can also help parents of autistic children and adults. If you or someone you know has an ASD, consider trying these therapies to see if they can help.