Is Mindfulness Logical for Asperger’s and Depression?

Mediation and Self-Talk

Mindfulness, meditation and self-talk are important ways of helping yourself when you’re depressed, stressed out, anxious or emotional. They’ve been shown to help handle feelings and are actually often used as components of the most helpful forms of therapy, cognitive therapy.

Why is it important to talk about these three techniques, especially for those with Asperger’s?

Two typical traits for those with Asperger’s are black and white thinking and a tendency to ruminate, to stew thinking about something. With black and white thinking, we see things in extremes, all bad or all good. When we’re depressed, that tends to be all bad.

Mindfulness, Meditation, Self-Talk

All bad isn’t realistic; life is always a mix. Things don’t always go wrong. People aren’t always hostile or rejecting. Ruminating means dwelling on something, usually negative when we’re depressed. As we dwell on our thoughts, they tend to become more dramatic, more overwhelming, more conclusive of our negativity. It’s like a downward spiral.

Both black and white thinking and rumination focus on the past, revisiting what has happened, or in the future, anticipating what might happen. We’re rarely in the present. Most often, at this exact moment, nothing too stressful is happening.

The point of mindfulness as an outlook, a way of being, is that it focuses on the present moment – our awareness of what’s happening right now.

Mindfulness exercises include activities that force us to focus on the here and now. Focus can be on attending to our breath, what we hear, bodily sensations, or what we’re doing, like the feelings of washing dishes, the soap on our hands, the feeling of the water, the texture of the plate and glass. This pulls us out of the past and future into the present, which tends to be calmer.

Meditation is a practice for both the body and mind.

When we’re emotionally aroused or stressed, our entire autonomic nervous system is activated. Blood pressure goes up, breathing changes, stress hormones race through our bodies, and every system is affected.

We can be stressed in this way both by what goes on in the moment and by what goes on in our minds – thinking about something can trigger the same physical stress response as being in that moment. Emotionally we’re at a high level of arousal, regardless of what’s happening in the moment. Meditation turns off the stress response, and teaches our bodies what Herbert Benson of Harvard calls the “relaxation response.” Meditation has actually been scientifically proven to structurally change the brain to be more stress-resilient.

Gyms, Teenagers, and Asperger’s

Helping your teenager stay physically active and healthy

Your adolescent is getting taller, eating more, and gaining weight. It happens parents, our kids grow and eat more while moving less. Between school and therapies who has time for the gym, right? Well, unfortunately, we tend to place fitness in the back burner when in reality it should be in the forefront.

Teenager Workout

Our health should have as much importance to us as education or physical therapy or speech therapy. Adolescence is a great time to begin incorporating health and fitness and I will be discussing some quick pointers to help with that transition. 

Self Advocacy with Aspergers

Self advocacy is the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests. This includes: learning how to speak up for yourself, make your own decisions, pursue your interests, find the people who will support you, know your rights and responsibilities, problem-solve, listen to others, and express agreement and disagreement in a calm manner.

Self advocacy helps you to:

  • Obtain what you need
  • Make your own choices
  • Learn to say no without feeling guilty
  • Express disagreements respectfully

How to be a self-advocate

Self Advocacy

Believe in Yourself

The first step of self advocacy is believing in yourself. That also means believing in your strengths. Know that your worthy and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to care for yourself. Many people with disabilities struggle with self-esteem and motivation. You have to find out what makes you happy, learn something you enjoy and be good at it.

It is often hard for people with disabilities to ask for what they want when they are treated poorly; I know from experience. This makes it difficult to practice self advocacy.

It is time to invest in yourself and your self-worth. Make it a point to believe in yourself daily: whether it’s looking in the mirror and saying “I’m a terrific, a great person,” or writing a post it on the wall to remind yourself how good you are, or a reflection letter with all of your strengths and obstacles you have overcome.

Assess: On a scale of 1 to 10 rate how you are feeling that day. If it’s a zero, then find a way to make yourself feel better; if it’s a ten, then keep doing what makes you happy. When you can’t decide, give yourself a 5 and remind yourself: “what can I do to make things better?”

Appreciate: Give yourself credit when credit is due. It’s hard to believe in yourself and give yourself credit because you feel you can do better or feel as if you not doing your best. We can be our own worst enemies. Practice forgiving yourself when you’re sad or hurt.

Give yourself credit for everything you do that is great, even if it’s small, like getting out of bed when you are depressed.

Handling Social Anxiety for Self-Fulfillment

I’m emailing with Kris Jones, an eloquent writer on Linkedin about his Asperger’s Syndrome. We’re talking about the stressors he experiences that can create extremely self-limiting anxiety. We’re going to use several blogs to talk about different stressors. Kris’s first stressor was his lack of self–fulfillment. One of the causes of this lack of self-fulfillment was Kris’ social anxiety.

Tony Attwood, expert on Asperger’s Syndrome, suggests that around 65% of adolescents with Asperger Syndrome have a secondary mood or affective disorder (such as depression or anxiety); most have anxiety.

anxiety/stress

Kris describes his thoughts and feelings which I’m calling social anxiety like so: “No one likes you. No one wants to know you. You are not interesting. Stay where you feel most comfortable – inside your house and away from others. You are not fit to be out there amongst the human race.” He says that this is representative of how he feels and it is what keeps him from going out and mingling with others his age. Even though he knows these thoughts about himself aren’t true, he can’t get past the anxiety.

Let’s break this down into parts. What causes this social anxiety?

Are You an Aspie and Depressed? That’s Not Unusual

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression: Part 1

As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US  is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.

Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.

Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.

It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.

It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.

It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:

Asperger’s, Depression and College Students

Depression is most common in adolescents and young adults with Asperger’s, and particularly in those with stronger intellectual and verbal skills. That means college students with Asperger’s are at a very high risk for depression. This is particularly true for freshmen, who are transitioning to the college experience. Although I’ve seen this in later years as well when students are dealing with more challenging classes, social issues, and upcoming graduation as triggers.

Let me tell you about one college student’s experience with depression:

Franklin went off to a good college based on his excellent academics in high school. However, he’d been provided with executive function scaffolding all through high school. His parents and a teacher had helped him organize his time and initiate his work. The school counselor and his parents had feedback from teachers if he was falling behind on assignments.

In college, he was on his own.

He was supposed to check in with the disability office, but he resisted being seen as needing help. Franklin had challenging classes and had taken on a very full load of five classes; he had always set his standards and expectations of himself very high. Franklin began falling behind in writing papers for his English literature class because writing was difficult and he wrote slowly. His effort was going into writing, so he fell behind on the reading. He tended to procrastinate as the pile of work grew. Franklin was embarrassed at being behind, so he stopped going to English. He also was stressed by feeling at a loss in terms of the 24/7 social demands.

As you might expect, all of this stress was a trigger for depression. In Franklin’s mind, one was either a success or a failure, and he was a complete failure.

Resources for Depression and ASD: Now that we know, what do we do?

Depression is more frequent in those with AS than the general population, and the struggles of those with AS often contribute to the development of depression. The obvious question is, what resources are available and what do we do? First, we should not accept depression as just a normal part of AS, especially if it’s interfering with everyday life. Secondly, we need to recognize the symptoms to help as early as possible. And lastly, we need to research the supports that are available – how you can help yourself or others right now – and what resources still need much improvement so that you can call upon action in your community.

Being aware of the symptoms of depression is critical:

  • sleep difficulties, either sleeping more or less (insomnia, early morning waking);
  • changes in appetite (either more or less hunger);
  • weight gain or loss;
  • a failure to enjoy normal sources of pleasure;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • sadness, guilt or hopelessness;
  • crying or unusual irritability.

Someone who is clinically depressed sees the world in the above ways each day. It’s important for the individual or those around to seek professional help.

Medication can help many with depression, as can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although CBT is a slower process with AS individuals and needs to be adapted to their thought process. Some studies suggest neurobiofeedback can be helpful with depression and there are a few early studies of its use with ASD patients. For those who prefer to avoid medication, this is certainly worth exploring. It is best to come to your medical sessions with the knowledge of various treatments so that you can be prepared to discuss what is best for you.

It’s important to think about addressing the factors that can result in depression.