Mindfulness improves focus and wellbeing in young people with autism, study reveals

Mindfulness therapy can improve decision-making skills and focus in young people with autism, a major study has revealed.

The research, led by the Rutgers University and the first to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness in children with autism, suggests that such programmes aimed at young people could improve academic attainment in the long-term.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, the study looked at 27 students with autism undertaking an eight-week mindfulness program. In each session, the students – aged between 10 and 17 – were taught the basic principles of mindfulness, such as slow breathing, paying attention to thoughts and feelings and living moment by moment.

Before and after each session, the students were tested on their impulse control, attention and decision-making.

It was found that after studying mindfulness, the participants showed improved executive functions, such as controlling emotions, maintaining self-control, focusing attention and being flexible in changing their perspectives.

Commenting on the findings, lead investigator Helen Genova said: “As in previous studies on school-based mindfulness programs and typically functioning children, we found that the practice taught the students to take a moment to stop and breathe.

“This reduced impulsiveness and allowed them to make better decisions.”

Regina Peter, the co-executive director of Newmark, the school participants studied at, reiterated the importance of teaching mindfulness to children with special education needs.

“The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it is a tool they can take out when they need it. It is not a medication with side effects, and it’s free.”

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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