An Amazing Tool for People on the Autism SpectrumBY MATEO SERRANO
I was born in New Jersey, but I grew up in Jalisco, Mexico. Spanish is my second language. You hear so much about people who grow up in Mexico then migrate here, but my childhood experience was the opposite. As a boy in Mexico, I always got made fun of for my American accent. Americans think I’m Mexican, but Mexicans assumed I was American. I grew up with this sense that there was nowhere I fit in.
That sense of displacement was made worse by my autism and my learning disability, both of which I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I always had a hard time making friendships; I was often inappropriate and impulsive with others, and ended up pushing people away when I tried to get close to them.
I was just 14 when my father died in 2008. I was very close to him, and not at all close to my mother. My dad’s death devastated me on so many levels. One key problem was that I didn’t have a male role model to teach me how to live, including how to interact with women. After he died, I withdrew more into myself, and I became very nihilistic and cynical. Prior to my dad’s death I had had joy, and despite the move to Mexico and the autism, had had a pretty normal childhood. Afterwards, I just shut down. I stonewalled everyone. The one tool I had to maintain connection was my sense of humor. I could make people laugh, often through viciously self-deprecating humor. That was the one way I could get validation.
I came to OM in college – I was just 19. The guy who told me about it was an unlikely guide. I met him in a dance class, and I thought he was the most obnoxious and odd person I’d ever met. I disliked him on sight, but eventually we started talking; I realized we had more in common than I thought. He was also on the autism spectrum, and his weirdness was strangely relatable to me. One day he told me that he’d learned how to make electricity with his hands. I thought it was just a strange euphemism, and then he explained OM. I was fascinated. I couldn’t wait to check it out.
My first OM was incredibly intense, and very sharp. I felt as if I were stroking her too hard and too fast, but that’s what her direction was telling me to do. First, I could feel the heat from her thighs, and then I could feel my thumb – not my finger – start to throb. A few minutes later, I sensed this expansion in my chest, like my ribcage had doubled in size and I could breathe in so much more than ever before. For a moment, I felt a powerful sexual arousal, but then even that turned into something bigger, more immense. It wasn’t just in my genitals, it was in my brain and my lungs and everywhere else.
I threw myself into the practice of OM. I became very spiritual about it, not in a rigid way, but because I was so reverent about doing it in the best way possible. I took all the rituals very seriously: the building of the nest, pillows and blankets; all the effort to be present and aware. I wanted to experience every single instant of the OM. That single-mindedness is part of my autism, but in OM, my autism enhanced rather than detracted from the experience. That was an incredible revelation. All my precision and focus had real value like it never had before. From the beginning, I had a beautiful dedication to the practice, I really did love it. I still do – I just don't practice as much as I'd like to.
OM taught me using a language I could understand. If you try to teach me with words alone, I’m going to tune out. It’s not how I learn. I’ve always learned experientially, and OM is raw experience. I could focus single-mindedly on the moment, and I could learn the lesson in a way that made absolute sense to me. Honestly, I think OM is an amazing tool for people that are on the autistic spectrum. For people like us, words don’t work nearly as well as kinesthetic experience. The mode of touch is perfect for people with autism, because so often, we can feel others more intensely and purely than most. There are no words for those feelings, but we don’t really need them. I mean, I’m using words now to describe this – but the real experience transcends written or spoken language. It’s felt.
I’ve always liked to build things with my hands. OM showed me the building blocks for a relationship with myself and with others. It didn’t magically make everything better instantly. When I say it showed me the building blocks, I still had to do the actual work of assembling a life with them. It’s not easy but at least I have a new way to understand the world now.
OM doesn’t solve every problem. I still feel so much grief about my dad, and I don’t know if that will ever leave me. And that’s okay – because what I have come to understand that OM is not so much a healing practice as it is a revealing practice. OM opened me up to see all of my issues, and it gave me the tools to accept what was revealed. With those tools, I’m still building.