Mindfulness works for autistics too!
Yesterday 2 things happened for me that I thought were interesting to share as part of my autistic journey and desire to increase awareness.
First thing in the morning, I had been reading Twitter and looking at an autism charity website on my phone, which had stirred some emotion as I realised there were no autistic voices on the website. This linked with a tweet I had read from a different source and the whole scenario had grabbed my attention, such that I was in my own world thinking about this very intently.
I will park this as a discussion topic for another day but let’s talk about attention….
For me, very similar to how I might only process one source of sensory channel at a time e.g. visual or auditory etc my attention is the same and I often have absolute single focus, I cannot divide attention amongst multiple things.
As I started to get ready for work, I took a shower (which I can’t remember doing) and I continued to process my thoughts. I started on my usual routine, in my blind fog of getting ready and a fleeting thought about contact lenses, putting on makeup etc. crept in, but my attention did not shift from my intense thoughts for probably another 5 minutes or so.
Eventually my mind and attention shifted and I came back to the present, at which point I realised I hadn’t put my makeup on (at least once last week I went to work without makeup on so I narrowly escaped a second time!). I also noticed I couldn’t see properly. I knew I had put contact lenses in though, because I could see the empty packets in the bin. I thought, I had just better check — yes as I suspected, I had 2 contact lenses in not just one eye, but both!! I had to take the 2 out to check, put one back in and take one out of the other eye and remember then to put my makeup on.
This can be a daily occurrence, my mind is so single focussed that it isn’t I don’t remember what I have done or where I have put something, but I have never registered it at all. I can’t forget something I never had a thought process about in the first place!
Some days I can drive a complete journey and not have recollection of leaving the house or the drive itself.
It can also be extremely embarrassing when someone has spoken to me or told me something and I simply haven’t registered a thing. They think I am ignoring them or being very rude, but my attention is simply elsewhere and hasn’t been able to shift to them.
This phenomena is called Montropism and from Wikipedia:
“Monotropism, a typical feature of autism, is when an individual has a restricted range of interests and can only pay attention to what is in his or her attention tunnel. This hypothesis was published in 2005 and was developed by Dinah Murray, a Doctor of Philosophy; Mike Lesser, a mathematician; and Wendy Lawson, a social worker; and regards attention-tunnels as the central feature of autism. Monotropic individuals tend to become too focused on a certain object or activity and find difficulty in shifting their attention, whereas a polytropic individual is capable of spreading his or her attention to multiple things at one time. Monotropic individuals often display stereotypies which occur because the individual focuses his or her attention on one thing, and repeats it until the attention moves. It is also related to monoprocessing, which is defined as the ability to only process information from one source at a time.”
I have found Mindfulness helps, where I train my mind to be on the present, but of course this is only as good as me having the attention focus to be Mindful and this is a challenge in itself.
When I am working and very focussed in my work, my single attention span, often means I don’t realise I need the toilet (my body feelings are not consciously registering for me), I need a drink or I need to eat or things like turn the light on and I can come back to the present and realise I am working in the dark, or freezing cold because I haven’t switched the heating on.
As an aside I went to see Ruby Wax last year in “Sane New World” which was amazing on the benefits of Mindfulness and Ruby shows how this is a great solution for people who are multitasking and trying to process too many things at once, but it can work really well for autistic people who are single processing but need to bring their attention to the present.
I have started using Mindfulness apps and prompts — on my phone, a reminder every couple of hours, my Apple watch, my laptop etc. All things to help shift my attention to the present occasionally and check my environment for things that might matter. I am trying to train my brain to be mindful as a habit — when driving to work, to notice the sky, the colours etc, pay particular attention to a song I may be hearing on the radio.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always help when I’m physically moving around, motor movement for me seems to grab and interfere in all of my processing so getting ready in a morning etc. can still be a challenge, but one step at a time!!
Finally, I was ready to go work — so where did I put my keys?????
Please look out for the next few days when I will share the second thing that happened yesterday — @autaitchel on Medium and Twitter
For those more interested in monotropism I also highly recommend Wenn Lawson’s book ‘The Passionate Mind: How People with Autism learn” which introduces an alternative cognitive theory “Single Attention and Associated Cognition in Autism (SAACA)” available on Amazon
Please follow my Publication on Medium for all of my blogs — Actually Autistic — https://medium.com/actually-autistic