Autism and the Practice of Centering Prayer


Q: I have autism but I’m highly functional. It seems like during Centering Prayer my mind/brain goes almost always to memories of my past. Are there any special recommendations for how to practice Centering Prayer for people who are on the autism spectrum?

A: Thank you for your question. As you may already know, autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. It is still little understood scientifically.

There is a growing interest across the Centering Prayer (CP) community in mental health in general and autism in particular. This chimes with the growing realisation, certainly in Western society, that mental health is significantly more important to health and wellbeing than has been acknowledged in the past.

Because autism manifests itself in many different ways, and to many different degrees, for those with the condition, it is inappropriate to draw general conclusions about guidance for individuals. This applies to CP practice as much as it does to other aspects of life. Therefore, your experience in your CP practice of your “mind/brain [going] almost always to memories of my past” will not necessarily apply to others with autism. For example, the thoughts of others with autism in our CP community can often go to future matters that concern them, perhaps associated with the heightened state of anxiety that some (often female) with autism experience, as anxiety is often triggered by thoughts of future events.

My advice to you, as to all CP practitioners, is simply to remain true to the central teaching of the practice. Let all ‘thoughts’ go, recalling Thomas Keating’s words to return ‘ever so gently’ to the practice, whatever emerges.

It is precisely because of the limited scientific knowledge of autism and its impact on and from CP practice that we have embarked on an exploration of this. An initial article that we co-authored was published in the December 2022 edition of CO News (see page 6). If you (or anyone else) is interested in this and want to contact us, please do.

We hope that this helps.

Much shalom,

David Henderson and Alison Woolley, UK