Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not immune from the life stressors faced by their neurotypical peers. Additionally, those with ASD may find their ability to identify and communicate their feelings to be even more complicated due to challenges related to social communication and social interaction. Counseling can be instrumental in helping those on the spectrum navigate a myriad of concerns that may be secondary to ASD. Here are some ways that counseling can help individuals on the autism spectrum.
Developing Social Skills
It can be difficult for people on the autism spectrum to interpret nonverbal cues and develop conversational skills. Examples of this include turn-taking, greetings, and taking another person’s perspective. The unspoken rules of social situations often referred to as the “hidden curriculum” may need to be taught more explicitly. Teaching social skills more directly, using relatable examples, and incorporating interests to help engage the individual and increase their motivation may help them acquire these skills and reduce feelings of frustration.
Individuals diagnosed with ASD experience the same range of emotion as neurotypical peers. However, their ability to identify emotions in themselves and others may be challenging for them. Counseling can help individuals on the spectrum to develop and expand emotional understanding. A highly individualized, creative approach may be necessary to achieve this, including the use of pictures as visual aids and role-playing. The ultimate goal is for individuals to identify how they feel and communicate this with others, using whatever communication method is available to them.
Treatment of Comorbid Mental Health Concerns
The DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) indicates that “about 70% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder may have one comorbid mental disorder.” Comorbidity is the presence of multiple mental illnesses present at the same time or occurring in successive order. Having a counselor trained and experienced in working with comorbid diagnoses is essential for positive therapeutic outcomes. Individuals diagnosed with ASD who are also experiencing comorbid mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD can benefit from counselors that have a strong understanding of common unhelpful thinking styles present in autism spectrum disorder.
Transitioning to Adulthood
The transition to adulthood can present unique challenges to individuals on the autism spectrum. Transitions cause uncertainty and may be anxiety-provoking. There are many social norms or rules that may be confusing. How do I interact with co-workers? How is this different from how I interact with my boss? Friends? Romantic partner? Working with a counselor during the transition to college, a career, or more independent living, can help those on the spectrum and their families navigate this exciting and challenging time.
In summary, the benefits of counseling for those with ASD are similar to the benefits that any person attending counseling might receive. However, the approach may need to be more specialized to account for additional challenges, common thinking patterns, repetitive patterns of behavior or interest, and social communication differences. The support of a trained counselor with experience in treating individuals with ASD, who focus on the individual’s strengths, values, and goals, can be an invaluable source of support for a client with autism spectrum disorder.
If you or a loved one are interested in exploring counseling with a licensed counselor specializing in working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and comorbid diagnoses, schedule an appointment with Ashley Freimanis today by clicking here.