Autism spectrum, now called ASD (previously called Asperger’s), responds well to therapy focused on social skills, coping, and connecting socially and emotionally to others.
Those on the ASD spectrum often struggle to connect in social situations, yet these are teachable skills. Thanks to mirror neurons in the brain, clients on the autism spectrum can learn to imitate appropriate skills.
At times both parties, parents and child, need to give each other the space to process emotions before trying to redirect or provide a healthy distraction such as a fidget toy, sensory calming activity, or using mindfulness. Often therapeutic parenting techniques are not the ones learned in our family of origin.
Our staff is trained in ways to educate clients and parents on brain-researched coping skills to promote:
- Cognitive Flexibility
- Empathy/Social Connectedness
- Social Skills Acquisition
- Stress Management
- Enrichment Activities
For example, one skill from Daniel Siegel's ‘Whole Brain Kids’ is, "engage, don't enrage." This means when using discipline focus on the Latin meaning of the word, "to teach," rather than punishment which triggers fear centers in the brain. When siblings have conflict you can try using empathy first, "You were really mad at your brother. That can make it hard to stay in control." After supporting the child to calm from a "fight/flight/freeze" stress response, parents can say, "How do you make things right with your sibling?" or "How do we avoid this pattern again?" Sometimes parents need to learn ways to regulate their own emotions or stress reactions to avoid power struggles.
Some on the spectrum have an intense interest in a specialty. Therapy can explore ways to take advantage of this through volunteer work, enrichment, and field trips. One example is a client who was very fascinated by outer space. Our staff found a space camp for him to attend as well as a weekend enrichment course learning about astronomy. As the client gets older, additional suitable recommendations to his/her age can be made.
Occasionally there are others on the spectrum are what we call, ‘twice exceptional,’ where the Asperger’s traits may be combined with giftedness, ADHD, and other mental health conditions or learning challenges. Sometimes there may be gaps in development where the client may act like a much younger or older child on certain developmental tasks. Therapists can assist in clarifying diagnosis and community resources such as private schools, support groups, enrichment classes or camps.
Once these goals are met often a client will function better in school because their stress levels have been lowered.