Receiving an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis as an adult has been a profound revelation in my life. This unexpected twist has led me to reflect on my long-standing involvement in various spiritual communities. In many ways, these communities emphasise openness, acceptance, and recognising the inherent worth of all individuals. Yet, my unique neurodiverse wiring has, at times, felt out of place with some commonly promoted spiritual practices and beliefs.
One of the first striking disconnects I encountered was with meditation techniques that advocate clearing the mind or focusing on a mantra for extended periods. These practices, while beneficial for many, posed significant challenges for a mind wired for rapid thinking and hyperactivity. In spiritual circles, the ability to sit still and silence the mind is often seen as a sign of spiritual advancement. However, for neurodiverse individuals, it's not merely a matter of ego-checking; these meditation practices rarely align with our cognitive patterns.
Similarly, the increasing emphasis on manifestation and controlling one's reality within spiritual communities can be problematic. Some teachings suggest that any failure or limitation is a product of one's thinking, something to be overcome through sheer willpower. But for neurodiverse individuals, such as myself, the reality is quite different. We cannot reshape our brain wiring to manifest health, wealth, or harmony according to societal norms.
In light of these realisations, I firmly believe that, for spiritual practices and communities to genuinely embody the openness, they must embrace and accommodate neurodiversity. Don't get me wrong, I've had the privilege of encountering facilitators who are truly exceptional and have skilfully created spaces that cater to the diverse needs of neurodiverse individuals. However, since my diagnosis, I've come to understand the additional effort I have invested in learning to be present and live in the moment.
Understanding the extra effort I've had to put into my practice as a neurodiverse individual now feels less burdensome. I've come to realise that engaging in meaningful spiritual practices, such as meditation, requires me to take a diverse approach and draw on various modalities that resonate with me on different days. Such as, sound healing, tarot cards, crystals, meditations, dance meditations, goddess embodiment, walking meditations, reiki, and Seichem. These diverse approaches allow me to explore and connect with my spiritual journey in a way that suits my neurodiverse needs and varying states of presence has given me time to reflect on how and what could be best practice for holding space for other neurodiverse persons.
To make spiritual practices more inclusive for neurodiverse individuals, there are several things spiritual leaders and communities can take:
Offering shorter guided meditations or incorporating movement-based meditation practices.
Allowing participants to fidget or use fidget tools during longer meditations.
Providing headphones to block out distracting sounds.
Presenting alternatives, such as walking meditations, visualisation exercises, or chanting and drumming sessions.
In addition to adapting meditation practices, it is essential to address the social and sensory aspects of spiritual events:
Offering quiet spaces for participants to retreat to when overwhelmed.
Limiting scents and reducing excessive visual stimulation when possible.
Explaining social expectations and cues explicitly.
Encouraging regular comfort breaks.
As a reiki practitioner and sound healer, my goal is to hold space for individuals to explore spiritual practices that resonate with them. What I have learned and advocate for is the importance of allowing people to find healing modalities that suit their unique needs and wiring. For some, standard meditation may foster a deep sense of connection, while others might find solace in movement, sound baths, or communion with nature. There is no one-size-fits-all approach on the spiritual path.
So a final reminder to myself, ever-evolving landscape of spirituality, compassion and creativity must guide us. We have the opportunity to create communities that are welcoming to all neurotypes, where each person can tune into their own inner wisdom.
Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences by Thomas Armstrong - Armstrong delves into the strengths and abilities associated with various neurodiverse conditions and how society can better harness these talents.
Neurodiversity is a concept that emphasises the natural variation in neurological traits and differences among individuals. It suggests that conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others should be seen as a natural part of human diversity rather than as disorders or disabilities that need to be "cured" or normalised.
The term "neurodiversity" promotes the idea that society should respect and accommodate the unique strengths, perspectives, and needs of neurodiverse individuals, just as it does for any other group. It encourages a more inclusive and accepting approach to differences in brain function and behavior, with a focus on providing support and creating environments where neurodiverse people can thrive.
Neurodiversity advocates argue for a shift away from pathologizing neurodivergent traits and instead seek to foster understanding, acceptance, and inclusivity for all individuals, regardless of their neurological characteristics.