What is ASD?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s behavior and ability to communicate. Today, 1 out of 54 children in the United States have ASD.* People with ASD commonly have:
- Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
- Narrow interests and repetitive behaviors
- Symptoms that affect the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
The word “spectrum” references the wide variety of symptoms and levels of severity among people diagnosed with ASD. Pediatricians routinely screen children for ASD during wellness visits that document a series of “milestones” which neurotypical children should meet during their development.
It is not uncommon, however, for higher-functioning children with ASD to receive an official diagnosis until they are in elementary school or sometimes later. Diagnoses can be made even into adulthood.
Regardless of when an individual is diagnosed, it is important to remember that each individual has the capacity to think and learn, but in different ways.
Yoga and mindfulness programs have become increasingly popular as an alternative treatment for ASD. Recent research** evaluating the benefits of yoga and mindfulness‐based interventions for children with ASD showed, among other things, an increase in communication and socially related behaviors and a decrease in aggressive behavior and social withdrawal.
What does Autism feel like?
Autism is not a one size fits all diagnosis and there is still much to learn about ASD and how it impacts a person or family differently. The spectrum is wide and some people have more severe symptoms while others are more high-functioning. In addition, autism looks different in males and females.
The below feelings are general but differ per child or person, those on the severe end of the spectrum may experience all and more symptoms identified below, while those that are moderately affected or “high-functioning” may be able to communicate more effectively and live normal lives.
- Difficulty understanding intentions of others
- Difficulty understanding one’s emotions
- Challenge expressing emotions
- Emotional triggers
- Feeling overwhelmed in social situations
- Seeking emotional safety from others (may result in codependency)
- Need to feel safe
- The need for personal space (appropriate social distance from others)
- Avoidance of eye contact or extreme eye contact
- General difficulty with verbal or non-verbal communication (looks different depending on severity)
- Anxious or sad feelings
- Not “fitting in” or often times victims of bullying
- Repetitive behaviors or mannerisms (i.e. Repetitive touching of an object)
- Heightened focus on specific tasks (i.e. organizing objects, lining up toys in a specific order, ritualized patterns or ways of doing things)
- Sensory issues (light, sound, touch, pain, etc..)
- Narrow or extreme focus in particular subjects or objects
- Obsessive compulsive tendencies
*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018
**Source:Semple, R. J., (2019). Yoga and mindfulness for youth with autism spectrum disorder: a review of the current evidence. Child and Adolescent Mental Health,24(1), 12-18.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that causes difficulty with functioning or development due to a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. People with ADHD commonly experience the following:
- Failure to follow through on instructions and avoidance or dislike of tasks requiring sustained attention
- Overlooking or forgetting details and making careless mistakes
- Being very talkative, constantly “on the go” and interrupting or being impatient
There are many other symptoms, and you may even recognize the ones here as something you’ve experienced yourself to a mild degree. The distinction is that a collection of these and other symptoms severely impact daily life, work and other responsibilities for a person diagnosed with ADHD. Although there is no cure, it is possible to treat ADHD through behavioral therapy, stress management techniques and other alternative care solutions.
For example, Yoga & Meditation practices are known for improving symptoms related to ASD and ADHD through calming breathing techniques, improving focus and attention and enhancing emotional balance. Meditation is thought to help with ADHD because it thickens your prefrontal cortex, a part of your brain that’s involved in focus, planning, and impulse control — key weak areas in someone with ADHD. Both meditation and yoga increases the level of dopamine, commonly deficient in the brain of someone with ADHD. More than a third of adults with ADHD surveyed use mindfulness meditation to manage their symptoms (ADDitude Magazine, 2017).
Just as anything in life though, it is a practice and must be continually developed in children and adults living with ASD or ADHD. In addition, consistency in practice is critical to yield long-term results. Another way to think of this is that the same way you exercise a muscle to become stronger, you can exercise your brain to control your attention and become less impulsive.
Co-Occurring Condition FACT: 43% of people diagnosed with ASD are also diagnosed with ADHD.
What does ADHD look like?
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked)
- Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones)
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities