Recognising the potential of Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the World around them.

It is a spectrum condition, which means that while all people with Autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with Autism are able to live relatively independent lives, but others may have accompanying Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities and/or Learning Difficulties that need a lifetime of specialist support. People with Autism may also experience increased or reduced sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

It is generally thought that people with Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of Autism, are often of average, or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech, but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

Learning about Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)s can be an education to others about how communicating with the Autistic mind can be like learning another language, a language which does not follow, necessarily, the conventional rules of communication.

If an adult, adolescent or child has an (ASD) which is not diagnosed and/or acknowledged or misdiagnosed, there can be varying consequences due to not receiving the proper care and support.

This can lead to the following:

  • segregation from mainstream society
  • social exclusion
  • social deprivation
  • social degradation
  • caught up in the system
  • low self-esteem
  • detriment to one’s own well-being and health.

There are many ways to provide counselling support to individuals living with these conditions. One approach known as Psychotherapeutic Integrative Counselling is largely about understanding other human beings often feel misunderstood and confused.  

It has been said that each person has a mild form of a psychological condition, such as Dyslexia, ADD, and OCD etcetera. This is exemplified by Johnson Catherine PhD and Ratley J. John MD (1977) in their book called Shadow Syndromes. They discuss in their book the possibility of a biological aspect attributed to our genes, instead of an emotional problem from childhood from the example of bad parenting, lovers or significant others. They do however state that such biological differences attributed to the genes could be exasperated by parents or significant others.

A better understanding of an individual’s psychological needs may help the individual to feel more heard and understood and encourage them towards realising their potential or what Rogers (2004) refers to as the Actualizing Tendency. Knowing oneself better can help to know how to specialise and focus on what can be realistically achieved.

Psychotherapeutic Integrative Counselling is also informed by a theory that makes up the three different approaches of Psychodynamics, Person-Centred and Existential Phenomenology. This can be used throughout the counselling process in three different ways:

Genuineness: explored by Rogers (2004) and Mearns and Thorne (1988) is a very important quality to apply to this practice. It enables a client to be heard and to feel safe as well as contained. If the client does not feel that the counsellor is being genuine with them, they may find it difficult to have a genuine relationship with the self in terms of how they perceive themselves, hear themselves and address themselves in the present. It is usually the need for people with Dyslexia or Asperger's Syndrome to seek others out who they do have a genuine relationship with, and to limit previous encounters with disingenuous others.

Person-centred: this approach helps clients have a better understanding of how they view, are viewed and value themselves in relation to the World around them with reference to what is termed as the Organismic Valuing Process and the Locus of Evaluation, Mearns and Thorne (1988).

In applying the person-centred core principles which are; empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence, the client is able to re-evaluate in bringing about a change to part or the whole organism. Such a profound change can lead to what Rogers (1967) described as the Actualizing Tendency, which means for a person, the process of realising their full potential. Rogers (2004) and Mearns and Thorne (1988) Applying Unconditional Positive Regard during the counselling sessions with clients reinforces a need for acceptance and warmth from the counsellor, which in turn, the client is able to apply to the self.

Psychodynamics: is useful in addressing unresolved childhood issues from the early developmental stages of childhood, Gay (1989); Jacobs (1988). Things that are not so easy to put into words are acted out by the client, referred to as Transference. Freud’s use of the term Transference helps the counsellor to engage and explore with the client, enabling a better understanding of behaviour associated with the clients presenting issue.

Existential Phenomenology: May (1986); Spinelli (1994); Yalom (1931) this approach evolved from early philosophical roots, which still applies to the present day. One of the early pioneers of this movement was Husserl. He devised a method where the counsellor would be less influenced by their own story, enabling them to hear more of the client’s story. This is referred to as the Phenomenological Method. From this, Husserl also showed how this enables a counsellor to reflect on one’s own experiences, through a process of Straightforward Experience being action based as it occurs and Reflective Experience when we try and explain what has just occurred. Another key component of the Existential movement is Yalom’s (1931) four givens, which are death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. He argues that at any one time in an individual’s life there will be an anxiety relating to a fear surrounding one or more of the four givens.

To that end diversity, equality and inclusion are also important when providing counselling to Autism Spectrum Disorders. These can be viewed in the following ways, but are always open to interpretation:

Diversity: To recognise and respect the diverse cultures, backgrounds, faith, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, wisdom and awareness of the people I associate with in a professional, supportive and social capacity.

Equality: To treat everyone in a fair, unbiased, friendly, polite, professional and ethical manner.

Inclusion: To recognise and moderate language and or behaviour and make reasonable adjustment’s in recognition of difference of faith, culture, disability and gender.

Working with adolescents with Autistic Spectrum Disorders during the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood is a very important part of the psychotherapeutic counselling process, so too is addressing the common concerns as they make this transition, which could be:

  • socialisation 
  • miscommunication
  • fears
  • goals
  • aspirations
  • expectations
  • careers
  • education
  • employment.

Apart from providing psychotherapeutic counselling therapy, it is also very important to encourage different organisations, services and agencies to network and share their resources towards supporting an individual with an (ASD) on a case by case basis first.  

Ultimately individuals living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders need to feel encouraged to reach their full potential. Using a counselling-therapeutic approach suited to working with (ASD’s) is essential to realising this potential.  

Working with a counsellor who is skilled and trained in Autistic Spectrum Disorders can greatly benefit the client living with (ASD’s). Ultimately these individuals need to feel encouraged to reach their full potential.

This can be achieved by seeking support from an expert counsellor, who can help the individual to manage his or her condition, develop coping strategies and help the client become aware of how to work with the deficits and dysfunctions, skills and attributes of the (ASD).

Knowing about related Spectrum Disorders, Disabilities or associated difficulties that may accompany an (ASD), such as:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder / Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
  • Irlen Syndrome
  • dyspraxia
  • dyslexia
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • visual impairments
  • hearing impairments.

At a local level, the following services and organisations can help an adolescent going through the transition from childhood to adulthood:

  • schools giving learning support with exams, advice on careers and advice on further education
  • Jobcentre plus
  • local advocacies
  • parents or close family members related to the adolescent
  • legal guardians, children’s homes or other care institutes
  • GPs
  • child and adolescent local ‘services’
  • child and adolescent local ‘services’ for Disabilities, (ASD) and other Spectrum Disorders
  • counsellors and psychotherapists
  • social ‘services’ CAMHS child and adolescent mental health ‘services’
  • The National Autistic Society
  • local multi faith groups.

Further afield, the following services and organisations can help an adolescent going through the transition from childhood to adulthood:

  • The National Autistic Society
  • AS Mentoring, which was launched in Summer 2013 to provide specialist coaching and mentoring for people with Asperger Syndrome and other potentially exclusionary conditions.
  • charitable organisations promoting key skills through adventure holidays
  • apprenticeships
  • further and higher education
  • sources of funding; charitable grants and disability grants
  • books, literature and information on the subject of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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