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How Autism Helps Me Be Mindful

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Mindfulness is an essential skill for self-development, as it allows for the silent observation of thoughts, and the filtering of the negative from the positive. The starting point of any thought is an observation, either immediately or sometimes long before it.

So it follows that the more potent the observations, and the more aware of them we are, the easier it can be to track our thoughts, from their source as a quiet observation all the way to their emotional context when we interpret them.

At all these stages of thought, autism can lend a great gift in many ways. The senses of an autistic person can be very refined in at least some channels — sight, hearing, touch, etc. This means we can have a very different experience observing the world than neurotypical people. Observations to a heightened mind are bright and loud, and so are difficult to ignore.

Each and every person, texture and object in a place is noticed and registered at once as I enter it, and none of it escapes me. This is the first stage of mindfulness. Seeing so much, only a small portion of the information is interpreted. There is then a relatively quiet time when my mind decides how to interpret the information and apply emotion.

When it does so, my body reacts in subtle ways to the chemicals, that we associate with emotions, released. Things like the sensation in our fingertips when we feel excitement. To me, as an autistic person, even these changes are felt as potently as a bright light. If I know which emotions have stimulated which response, the second stage of mindfulness is also achieved with help from autism.

It isn’t difficult for me to trace feelings back to their source; most usually have a logical cause to them. Because both the initial observation and its associated sensation are so loud and clear, if anything is seen multiple times, then both the characteristics of what I’m looking at, and the exact emotion I first experienced, are replicated immediately as though its the first time.

As a result, any activities that lead to the same scenario (or just something in it) appearing before me many times are predictable. I know what I see each time, and how that makes me feel. It also works for the complex emotions that can be made up of many simple ones. So autism also helps me to pinpoint, in most cases, what caused me to feel a certain way, and therefore whether it is an emotion worth dwelling on, or whether it should be let go. My autism gives me awareness of my emotions, so that they do not always control me. I’m glad of this, as they are temporary, and I can always choose to let them pass.

Autism also helps me to isolate thoughts from observations. This increases awareness of them as they’re not drowned out by new information. The observations are external, whilst the interpretations are processed internally, in an inner world that much of the time remains isolated from the one we all share.

It may not always look like it, but autistic people can have just as much capacity for, and as much understanding of, emotions as anyone else. Even if it doesn’t happen in the same way as for neurotypical people.

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Thinkstock image by Design Pics

Originally published: March 21, 2017
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