Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the Transcendental Meditation Program

by Mario Orsatti on August 1, 2011

Post image for Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the Transcendental Meditation Program

Asperger’s is often referred to as “high-functioning autism.” Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder, associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by an impairment in language and communication skills, as well as restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.

In the following video Mrs. Yvonne Kurtz and her son Adam talk about how the TM program has helped him manage symptoms of Asperger’s and improve his overall experience at school and at home.

Here’s an article written by Mrs. Kurtz and published the July/August 2011 issue of Autism Digest. In it she tells about her son’s experience with TM.

“Adam, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the Transcendental Meditation Program: High stress is inherent in most individuals with ASD. TM can help!”

By Yvonne Kurtz

My 14-year-old son, Adam, has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s intelligent, but over the years he has had difficulties with speech, fine motor skills, social interaction, and sensory issues. He has been in a number of special education classes because of his challenges, and we’ve paid for expensive therapy to help him. When he started middle school, he was just beginning to tie his shoes, drink from a cup, and use silverware. Such are the extremes within a person when Asperger’s is part of the mix.

Adam’s grades in his 7th grade mainstream classes were solid B’s, but at a school conference his teachers reported that he whined a lot and often acted as if he were in the middle of some fantasy, taking one side and then another in a story in his own little world. Other kids thought he was strange and he had trouble getting along with some of them.

He also threw frequent temper tantrums at home when he didn’t get his way or if we restricted his video games. Life at our household became increasingly unpleasant as my husband and I frequently disagreed over how to deal with Adam’s extreme behavior.

Adam Kurtz practicing Transcendental Meditation

Then I began to think about how the Transcendental Meditation program helped me develop a calmer approach to life and wondered whether it might also help Adam. Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, is a simple, natural, effortless mental technique, practiced 10-20 minutes twice a day. It helps wake up the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functioning skills such as decision-making, impulse control, organization, and socialization. (Travis, et al., Cognitive Processes, 2010.) I thought a more fully functioning prefrontal cortex might help Adam with some of his behavioral problems.

Even though I was concerned about Adam practicing TM regularly, I thought he deserved the chance. As it turned out, my concerns about him not wanting to meditate on a regular basis were unfounded. He took to it like he did to chocolate chip cookies. I’d wake up in the morning, walk by his room, and there he’d be sitting up in bed with his eyes closed. He would say in an understated manner typical of a 13-year-old boy, “I’m having a fairly positive experience.”

After about two months of Adam meditating, I woke one morning to realize he hadn’t had a temper tantrum in a while. Before starting TM, he sometimes lost school assignments and would scream, cry, and blame me for losing them. However, a few months after starting TM, when he lost a school assignment, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said in a disappointed voice, “I guess I’ll just have to do it all over again.” At the next school conference, the reports were much more positive. We were told that all of his alarming behaviors had lessened or disappeared, and his grades were mostly A’s. He had stopped talking to himself, rarely appeared to be in a fantasy world, and was more organized. He was also getting along fine with the other kids, including one whom he had considered an enemy before.

It has been over a year now since my son started practicing TM. He still does it twice a day, and we continue to witness improvements in his behavior. Of course, he’s a 14 -year-old boy and he still acts like one. I do not try to fool myself that he no longer has Asperger’s. He’s still socially awkward, particularly in groups, though even that has improved.
As Adam’s problems decreased, my husband and I started getting along better. Today we are a much happier family and we actually enjoy doing simple things together such as cooking, exercising, and watching TV.

Adam recently told me he has an interest in becoming an Eagle Scout. So now some of his video game time is spent creating experiences to make that happen. He was also named “Student of the Month” at school, and received a certificate and letter from the principal commending him for his improvements. We were thrilled! For the first time, I started to realize my dreams of college and a normal independent life for this child could actually come true.

All these positive changes made me look more deeply into scientific research on the TM program. Dr. Sarina Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist and lead researcher on TM and ADHD, told me that although they haven’t conducted any formal research on children solely with Asperger’s who are practicing TM, she witnessed improvements in symptoms in children with both Asperger’s and ADHD after starting TM.

When someone engages in a conversation, one area of the brain produces words while another area monitors the reaction of the other person. Both areas of the brain must work together simultaneously, and studies have shown that doesn’t happen as well for people with Asperger’s. (Just, MA, et al., Cerebral Cortex, 2007.) Their nerve pathways are less synchronized, resulting in less integrated functioning. During TM practice, not only does the synchronicity between areas of the brain improve, but the EEG readings of the entire brain become more coherent. All of this indicates that TM may be an excellent therapy to remediate some of the symptoms of Asperger’s.

The next step will be for researchers to study the effects of TM on people with Asperger’s. Because of our experience, I encourage parents to take a serious look at the TM program. I would also encourage entire families to learn TM together, since almost everyone needs to reduce stress and increase inner calmness and creativity. Recently Adam told me, “Mom, TM helps me keep my head clear inside.” That reminded me of what I was already experiencing for myself. TM helps me keep my head clear inside, too.
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Yvonne Kurtz is a mom and a substitute teacher in the Minneapolis school district. She lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Research References:
1) Travis, F., Haaga, D.H., Hagelin, J., Tanner, M., Arenander, A., Nidich, S., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S., Rainforth, M., & Schneider, R. (2010). A Self-Referential Default Brain State: Patterns of Coherence, Power, and eLORETA Sources during Eyes-Closed Rest and the Transcendental Meditation Practice. Cognitive Processes, 11(1), 21-30.

2) Just, M., Cherkassky, V., Keller, T. , Kana, R, & Minshew, N. (2007). Functional and Anatomical Cortical Underconnectivity in Autism: Evidence from an fMRI Study of an Executive Function Task and Corpus Callosum Morphometry. Cereb. Cortex 17(4): 951-961.
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Reprinted with permission from Autism Asperger’s Digest Magazine

www.AutismDigest.com

© Autism Asperger’s Digest 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Miville Couture

    This is a lovely and very encouraging story. My neighbours have two teenagers suffering from autism. I will gladly share this inspiring piece of news with them. The wonderful thing about the TM program is that the person who is directly affected by a problem, any problem, can become more self-sufficient and gradually overcome the difficulty in a natural way. This person sets an example for others to follow. It must be very rewarding for the parents to see that this daily experience of silence by their son makes a big difference in their own life.

    Miville Couture
    Saint John, NB, Canada

  • Stacy Bunch

    I do have questions. I have a lot! My son is 13 and I feel like I’m all alone. Dealing my little boy sometime is overwhelming. Ok……..most ALL the time :(

  • http://Aspergers/TM Rmorrical

    This was a great article. We live in FL. Have looked and looked for classes and not much help. I saw a TV special a few years ago saying TM was added to curriculum in Iowa state schools but could never find info on that either. Does anyone have specific info where we can find more info about schools using it??

  • Lori Arlt

    My son is 20 years old. I was wondering will it work for him also. He gets angry pretty easily. Thank you-Lori

  • Sarah

    This sounds like a great way for the whole family to get together and meditate as one.

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  • Jan Campbell

    Lovely article. It’s so encouraging to hear these good results for people who, for one reason or another, are struggling. Thank you!

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  • yvonnekurtz

    Some people have asked me about Adam and his progress. I’m happy to say that he’s now 17 years old, he meditates twice a day and continues to love it. He achieved his dream of becoming an Eagle Scout last year and is getting A’s in college classes. He is now working on the new dreams of getting a first job and learning how to drive. TM seems to really ground Adam and he is able to organize his work as he never has before. He also is persistent in making up work and tying up loose ends with his schoolwork–also a new skill. I can’t recommend TM highly enough for kids with Asperger’s or autism.

  • George Ellis

    In the 1970s I taught children diagnosed as autistic TM with
    good results, as well as numerous children who were deeply traumatized for
    example, one child when he was 2 was chained to the bed and beaten and when he
    was ten he was constantly throwing tantrums for hours; the facility employed
    drugs and behavior modification, and of course they failed. I taught the boy
    TM, his name was Tim, and he began to throw a serious tantrum and he was in the
    quiet room and as he began the tantrum his mantra came to him and he slipped
    into meditation and the tantrum ended. Light and darkness could not co-exist.
    Additionally, children who were Miss-diagnosed as re-tarted demonstrated
    those habits, after a taught of of the children (10 years old) after he opened
    his eyes I asked him how he felt and his innocent remark was the tress are
    prettier. My new book A Symphony of Silence

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