Compared to 40 years ago, diagnoses for autism (or disorders which fall on the autism spectrum) are 10 times more common today. In the United States, the total number of individuals diagnosed as autistic is around 3 million, and that number continues to increase. Symptoms of this disorder vary, but are most commonly recognized among experts as difficulty communicating, engaging with others, and/or repetitive behaviors. As a result of the increase with no known cause, psychologists and medical experts have dedicated more time, energy and research to finding answers and educating the population with tools for managing the disorder(s).
More recently, researchers have determined that there is no one cause associated with the disorder, rather a number of factors contribute to its existence, including genetics and early stages of prenatal development. With such gaps in research, effectively treating autism is equally difficult. As a result, most of the current medications designed to treat symptoms fail to fully alleviate the most common problems. Furthermore, existing medications do not work for every individual and there are concerns with administering them to children and adolescents along the spectrum. Nevertheless, experts have acknowledged therapy, even while taking medication, is most helpful in addressing issues associated with autism.
Confirming this idea, studies from Yoon-Suk Hwang and Patrick Kearney show how mindfulness can work to reduce behavioral problems in children with autism as well as in individuals with intellectual disability. This is valuable information given that around 95% of those on the spectrum exhibit such problems. Using mindfulness techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, the study included 254 individuals from 21 studies, with a range of ages, from adolescents to seniors. The results show that mindfulness lowered aggression, stress, and depression, and even helped certain participants with issues like smoking and weight loss, which are not necessarily limited to nor a result of autism.
Mindfulness is a practice with history in Far East teachings that involve being aware of feelings in a present moment without judging, but acknowledging them. Since its introduction the medical world in 1979, the practice has been used to treat a number of issues pertaining to mental and physical health, with great effects, as shown here.
Unlike typical medication, there were no negative side effects to engaging in mindfulness. Though it should be noted that the therapy only worked if and when individuals were willing to adhere, and cannot be forced, since it requires focus of the mind and reflection. In that way, it’s effect is dependent upon the assistance of instructors and/or therapists willing to teach and lead through the process.
The impact of this study will certainly go a long way toward treating this growing problem in our country and around the world; especially if medicine has little effect and a lack of research. While mindfulness may be more time consuming and require more knowledge and planning than medication, it is comparatively cheaper in the long run, and it’s effect should not be discounted. Those with understanding of mindfulness as well as autism would be most qualified for providing instruction.