Mindfulness has been getting its fair share of attention lately as a pathway to greater happiness and wellbeing but what exactly is mindfulness and how can it be helpful for special needs families?
What is mindfulness?
Hype aside, ‘mindfulness’ means paying attention to the moment without passing judgement, this might be through meditation or just concentrating on your breathing. (Reach Out, 2018)
Practising mindfulness can help you to cope with everyday life and deal with tough times. It can also help you to concentrate, relax and be more productive.
It’s understandable there are sceptics, but research is beginning to suggest mindfulness can have significant benefits to both physical and mental health and wellbeing, practically for people living with an intellectual disability (ID) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Mindfulness may help kids with developmental disabilities
Recent studies have highlighted the potential of mindfulness meditation practice for supporting families living with ASD or an ID.
With evidence showing it to be an effective way to cope with anxiety and reduce common behavioural, psychological and physical problems sometimes associated with ASD and ID. (Hwang & Kearney, 2015) (Weisbaum, 2016)
Benefits of mindfulness have been found to include:
Giving kids a better awareness of what is happening inside them, both emotionally and physically, and around them.
Empowering kids to identify and control their own emotions rather than being told to ‘calm down’ - others.
Teaching kids to handle anxiety when it arises - helping them pause, breathe and anchor themselves to calm their mind and body.
Helps improve students ability to pay attention while learning
Encouraging children to practice non-judgment towards themselves and others.
A natural way to decrease levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.
No known negative side-effects.
Mindfulness for parents
It was also found to be a helpful tool for parents of children with special needs.
Parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders are reported to have higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety, which can, in turn, affect their self-care, health and welling and ultimately their parenting. Afterall, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Mindfulness and mindful parenting have been found to help mums and dads reduce psychological distress and has shown promising benefits for parents experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress by encouraging parents to take time for themselves and to accept their situation, their child and their emotions in a non-judgemental way.
While research into this area is still emerging, mindfulness and acceptance may be important parental psychological processes, with wide-reaching implications for how health professionals and intervention services support parents. (Jones et al., 2014)
How to be mindful
So, has reading about the benefits made you want to try mindfulness with your family?
Here are a few easy activities to help you work mindful practice into your daily routine:
Mindful bedtimes: Try switching up storytime to include an app-guided meditation a couple of times a week. A short body scan is an excellent way to start. Apps like Smiling Mind are fantastic.
Mindful walks: Exercise and relaxation are a great combination. Take a walk and add a few minutes of quiet time where you try to notice things you haven’t seen or heard before.
Breathing buddy: Try making breathing game. Ask your child to cuddle their favourite soft toy to their tummy and see if they can make it rise slowly up and down using their breath. Another great toy is an expandable ball.
Mindful in May
Do you need a little bit of guidance to help you get into the swing of things? Or do you want to take your meditation up a notch?
Founded by Melbourne doctor Elise Bialylew, Mindful in May is a one-month global, online mindfulness meditation challenge that brings the benefits of meditation together with an opportunity to contribute to bringing clean drinking water to the developing world.
The program, includes weekly audio meditation downloads, exclusive interviews with leading experts in the field of meditation, wellbeing, and wisdom and cutting-edge science to keep you connected to your challenge.
Hwang YS., Kearney P. (2015) Introduction. In: A Mindfulness Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, Cham
Jones L, Hastings RP, Totsika V, Keane L, and Rhule N, (2014) Child Behavior Problems and Parental Well-Being in Families of Children With Autism: The Mediating Role of Mindfulness and Acceptance. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: March 2014, Vol. 119, No. 2, pp. 171-185.