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2/14/15 2:17 PM
Hello, This post is to get the attention of autistic practitioners, self or pro diagnosed, and people with an interest for whatever reason.

This post is NOT to seek a cure or treatment for autism. I see autism as an important evolution sidetrack. There are many elements to autism that are valuable and will find their way into more human DNA over many generations. (That is if organizations like Autism Speaks don't prevail, and in utero testing doesn't lead to mass abortion of autistic fetuses as has happened with Down's Syndrome.)

I wish to start a long conversation about autism on the path. I am autistic (Asperger). I am convinced that autism opens some paths, and closes other, but I do not know enough to be specific.

Autism is a pervasive lifelong alteration of brain function from the neurotypical (NT). It influences everything one way or another, including my autistic brain's practice.

I will start journaling my thoughts here, hoping to seed some discussion.

The topic is the intersection of autism and the dharma. 

personal background:
I have been committed to meditation and learning the dharma on and off for most of my life (61 YO male), with a mostly daily sitting practice for the last 10 years. As a child I recognize that I taught my self some meditation techniques, esp in body awareness. As a teen/20s I read the available books and did some retreats & trainings, Alan Watts, yoga, Casteneda, est, basic meditation, etc, and a brief involvement with then called Bubba Free John. Much of this was tabled to raise 2 autistic children, but often in the back of my mind.

I am autistic. I just emerged from near complete denial of this 2 years ago, largely as the traits had become undeniable to my waking mind. (Psychological denial is an amazing phenomenon!)

My introduction to Daniel Ingram's work was while searching out info on Dark Night. This was in response to a recognition that in my waking up to autism I abruptly lost the "I" that was formed of a lifetime of profound denial of the facts of autism and immersion in a deluded view of my self. I am sparing the details of how this loss of "I" manifests other than to note that there is confusion with self referential personal pronouns.

Losing the "I" has unleashed an existential depression. This depression seems to in line with my understanding of the Dark Night.
I have read that autistics have poorly (?) developed sense of self. This has been measured in different ways. This has, I suspect, led me thru some unwitting shortcuts on the path. I now find my mind in an injured state and getting psychotherapy for autism and depression, but from an autism therapist who is unfamiliar with buddhist teachings. She offers helpful meds, but is at a loss about the larger issue.

The most interesting consideration is that perhaps autism makes some important insights much easier, and other insights difficult. I think this is important. An estimated 1/62 people are autistic. This adds up to a large number of people who may be missing out on the teachings and these teachings might be of great value to them. The problem is somehow connecting the dots, something an autistic brain is not adept to do with their (my) erratic executive function ability. 

Is there a different dharma path for autistics? (obviously, but what might it be? esp since I am not yet familiar with the standard path.)

And what to do when this autistic is off into an unplanned and difficult realm of mind triggered by an unstructured learning path? (A couple days ago I had an insight that this confusion is yet another distraction in the content of my mind, Mara is on an extended visit. That is helpful.)

end of ramble... thank you for making it this far. 

RE: Autism
2/14/15 2:19 PM as a reply to Michael K.
Dear Michael, 

Welcome to the forum.
Is there a different dharma path for autistics? (obviously, but what might it be? esp since I am not yet familiar with the standard path.)

I have in advocacy forums read that "If you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person." Meaning, each person is still unique. Some people who are not labelled anything have awesome hearing and audio-graphic rhymn recall; some people who are labelled something have awesome hearing and, say, audio-graphic rhymn recall. In just my opinion, I would study own being to learn what are personal habits, how permanent are they and what am I? I would say this study takes as many years as life itself and I would personally not box it in with a label, which can become sort of an illusory trap (though hypocritically, I do see myself as a sentient being, perhaps also entrapping). But what are own sources of stress and what are the ends of own-sources of stress? What conduct is reliable?

Admittedly, starting from a diagnostic vantage can be very helpful framing for you.

There are a lot of people with their own experiences here to weigh in with you. 

Welcome and best wishes.

RE: Autism
2/14/15 3:44 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
If you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person.
I am not confused on this point. And there is much evidence that the autistic brain function is different than the NT brain in some identifiable and typical ways, thus the descriptor "autism". Some of this evidence is about the autistic view of self. Example, but I don't have a citation at the moment: A study of children's daydream habits reveals that NT children daydreams are often "me" oriented-the self is central. Autistic children daydreams are often not self oriented, the "me" is absent from the content of the daydream. In my own case, I have noticed I rarely observe my own image in a mirror. This leads to a messy appearance at times. It is not "me" in the mirror. I believe most NT people see "me" in the mirror, but that not a studied observation, just anecdotal on my part.

Here is a bit of related info:

And this from K. Ganesh (of whom I know nothing more than this one post)

We say that the autistic person understands nothing and so is handicapped. However, the autistic person actually understands 'nothing' which here is the nothingness of the universe, thanks to the absence of ego in him. While ego causes delusion in the normal person, leading to his acceptance of the universe and taking it for granted, the absence of ego in the autistic person saves him from this delusion. 

Thus autism tuns out to be a boon to be counted and not a problem to be solved.

RE: Autism
2/14/15 6:17 PM as a reply to Michael K.
I fully agree that "austim is a boon to be counted and not a problem to be solved" --- I also feel that there are benefits to having many so-called 'handicapps' in the world and that I would prefer these not to be culled by the tightening success metrics of a resource-strapped human-burgeoning world : )  I look at the great innovations and play that come up by having to interact differently because someone is non-verbal or paralyzed, for examples, senstive to touch, etc.

There are many traits emerging in the research-- like, empathy overload (versus lack of empathy once universally ascribed to austistic-range neurologies) and I while I get that we can be bunched into similar groups for useful purposes, I also get --- at a similarly purposeful level ---there is a place for non-NT ("neurotypical", I presume you mean) and non-autistic range bunching.

So I am not at all opposing your practice within an autistic frame.  Just sharing my own views. I wish you a good practice and hope to follow your practice, [edit:] an area you are forging where just a few here have openly done to my recollection over a few years. Perhaps forging without a tribe of like-folk around you (what can be called bravery) is part of your skillset. I don't know =]
Michael K:

Is there a different dharma path for autistics? (obviously, but what might it be? esp since I am not yet familiar with the standard path.)

And what to do when this autistic is off into an unplanned and difficult realm of mind triggered by an unstructured learning path?

RE: Autism
2/15/15 10:47 AM as a reply to Michael K.
Hi Michael,

         I work with young men and women diagnosed with autism, and was wondering about this subject on Friday. The men and women whom I work with would be described as "more profoundly affected" -a signifigant portion are non-verbal- so I am wondering where meditation or somatic awareness might be useful, but at this point I don't have specific answers. I ran a therapeutic group at a hospital for years and it took me some time to figure out how to introduce meditation in a useful way, but the hospital was for children with trauma and mental health issues and I have not yet figured out how meditation would be most useful in this new area in which I am not as familiar or experienced so I welcome any help or information you can provide. Welcome to the forum. I will be interested to learn more from your experience.


RE: Autism
2/15/15 12:29 PM as a reply to Michael K.
I believe there is something very relevant about Buddhism and Autism, based on my basic understanding of it and my interaction with one person in particuliar and similarities I noted with some others. I will make generalization for the sake of simplicity but I hope you will get the general ideas. We know we are using a vague label for something that is poorly understood but there is no easy way to escape that.

I believe someone with Autism experience the present moment with much more intensity. When i interact with a NT person, I can when the mind isn't completely there, I can feel the person thought process, the self-justification, the guilt, and so forth. With an autistic person, it's much harder to feel that. They find themselves immersed in the present moment in their own way. If some difficult emotion arise, they have to deal with it much more intensely. So everything is being processed more intensely. The other side of that is that their mind move from one state to another much faster. If the average person gets emotionally hurt, that person might keep that emotion for hours, days and weeks. The autistic person can move from a state of anger to a state of happiness in a few seconds, and there is no residual of the anger once in the state of happiness. But those transition can be pretty brutal and hard to process, which lead to very intense crisis. 

An autistic person will rely much less on irrational beliefs make sense of the world. The clash between the rationnal and the emotionnal happens much more intensely. There is less place in their mind for contradiction. 

All this make their mind very stubborn. A aspect of this give them some sort of free spirit vibe. In term of rationality, and often general intelligence, they are above the average. On the other hand, this leave them more fragile on the emotionnal side, as they experience emotions much more intensely and they have very little mechanism of defense like irrational self-justification. 

I believe NT psychologists have a lot of trouble to make sense of autism as they are trying to fit them in their own system of belief. Psychologists are building those framework to make sense of the human mind, not realising the system of belief behind it. Autistic minds live partially outside the general system of belief of NT. 

Depending on if the autistic person was raised in a constraining environnment or in a free environment will have a strong impact on how they develop their social skills. If they are raised in a society full of non-sensical social convention, they are likely to develop a great deal of social anxiety. They have to absorb to social convention and try to follow them to avoid confrontation and this is very stressful. In a society with very little social convention, assuming they have a relatively easy life, they will develop less anxiety than the average. There mind is more inclined to see the world as a magical place, and as long as the magic is happening, it's a beautiful world for them. But once they are faced with the reality that we cannot have everything that we want, it becomes very difficult to process. 

Also, I believe there is a lot of confusion about how they feel empathy and sympathy. They might read other people emotions better than the average (sympathy). On the other hand, they will not willfully make that other person emotion their own (empathy). On that aspect, they simply have less control. While the average person will adjust his emotional connection with others, lower or higher depending on the circumstance, the autistic person has very little control over that.

I will leave to that for now. I wanted to see if we had some basic agreement first and we can discuss the implication later.

RE: Autism
2/15/15 2:39 PM as a reply to Michael K.
I don't know much about this but I found this Mind-Body approach essay very helpful for understanding Asperger's. I believe it may answer some questions about the relationship with meditation

It both appreciates diversity and encourages growth toward more NT ways of being.

The statement "Michael K is autistic" isn't 100% true. What percentage of truth is it? 70%? 80%?

RE: Autism
2/15/15 3:24 PM as a reply to Bill F..
I had a day alone with my two grandkids recently, ages 6 & 10. We watched some of the experiments on This series of short videos is packaged up into one here.

They instantly and unquestionably "got it" in the first pointing experiment. They were quite amused with experience, and laughed quite a bit about having not having heads.

Later, I tested their insight. I gave them pencils and paper and suggested drawing simple self-portraits as they experienced it. One drew a version of this classic representation, the other drew a pile of body parts, but no head.

Richard Lang's style is quick, direct, entertaining, and simple. Perhaps you can get some ideas from him?

RE: Autism
2/15/15 3:41 PM as a reply to Michael K.
The statement "Michael K is autistic" isn't 100% true

yes, and no, and explanation: in the autistic community i am familiar with, being autistic is similar to being LGBT. It is a binary distinction of a similar nature. i can see how this might be devisive, but it is very helpful for suffering autistics to identify and find each other, as members of an accidental tribe, who mysteriously share a different and somewhat consistent alternate world view.

i have not seen much evidence of autistic people understanding that autism is a very wide range of expressions of a peculiar cluster of identifiable traits. there are many autistic people in my family tree and we are all as different as can be in most ways, but we all share a pattern of being "odd" in typical autistic ways, even those of us who very rarely communicate, and across very different lifestyles.

RE: Autism
2/15/15 4:15 PM as a reply to Michael K.
I have just read a few pages of your suggested reading and must stop and comment that this is an excellent summary of aspergers.

I share the opinion that aspergers is autism. The main distinction has been the age of speaking, or not. This is quite arbitrary. My therapist says I am aspergers, i say i am autistic, and in the community there is not much issue with that. As someone said earlier, if you have met one autistic, you have met one autistic.

A parent of a severely affected autistic child might be offended that I claim their mute and disabled child as a member of my tribe. In time their child may learn to interact with the NT world as well as I do, then the distinction would become unclear. As a child I was able to speak early and taught myself to read by age 4, then taught my younger sister to read, but i was mute with strangers. when young I would become a dog and bark, wag, and carry on like a dog with strangers, much to my parents chagrin. my family thought i was a genius, but to anyone outside the family i looked like a really strange autistic kid, which I was.