Learning to Celebrate Neurodiversity in Mindfulness

Developing more inclusive teaching practices can go a long way to making mindfulness accessible, especially for communities of neurodiversity.

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“When I’m told to focus on sensations of my breath, I feel like there is a noose wrapped around my neck, getting tighter and tighter as I keep paying attention.”

This comment comes from a brilliant young autistic woman who was told by her doctor that mindfulness would be good for her anxiety. She said it did the opposite: Mindfulness worsened her anxiety. In fact, it was a very negative experience that left her feeling like a failure.

It’s never anyone’s fault when mindfulness doesn’t work for them. They were just not taught mindfulness in an accessible, inclusive way that considers any unique needs.

Unfortunately, I hear things like this often. I am part of a mindfulness research program at the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, where in the course of the research, a large number of neurodiverse people have told me they are mindfulness “drop-outs.” In neurodiverse communities, people report having a range of sensory experiences that can produce different, and often adverse responses to common mindfulness techniques such as the body scan, breath practices, and loving-kindness. People with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as autism,…