This year world autism awareness week is from 1st to the 7th April 2019. The National Autistic Society state that 1 in every 100 people have a diagnosis of autism. This doesn’t count many unknown older people, girls and women that have never sought a diagnosis. This means that most people will have come across someone with autism in their lives.
Autism affects how a person makes sense of the world around them, how they process information and relate or interact with others. Although autism can be seen to be rooted in biology, current research cannot pinpoint a single causal factor, as the environment plays its part. There are no behaviours that are of themselves characteristics of autism as it is the combination of behaviours in specific areas of development that lead to a diagnosis. The difficulties that each person has will be unique to them and some 50% will have learning difficulties.
Many individuals with autism lead very normal lives, holding a job and getting married and having children. It is usually interactions within the various relationships that cause confusion, frustration and emotional difficulties for both the person with autism and those that they interact with.
Many adults and young people seek therapy because of the difficulties within their relationships in all areas of their life. In order to help these people, a good understanding of autism is essential for the client/therapist relationship to be effective. Many individuals with autism work in a literal and concrete manner and will not be aware of the subtleties and social niceties that most people pick up easily. This can come across as a very blunt or even rude way of communicating, especially as the other person’s feelings may not be something the person with autism will be aware of. Therapists working with someone with autism will need to be very clear and specific in their communications.
It is this very difficulty with social communication that causes distress and a lack of trust. Therapists can help individuals with autism to practice their communication with others in role play. This can be done by relaying how the therapist has understood and felt about the way the client has communicated. For many people with autism this results in having to learn this way of socially communicating as unwritten rules rather than an instinctive or intuitive way of communicating. This can be done in group work as well as individually.
Family and friends can be supportive of the individual with autism by being clear and concise in their communications. Timetables, written instructions and of course learning about autism from the individual so that it is specific to their needs will help to improve relationships. The person without autism also needs to make the effort to meet the individual with autism halfway. After all, communication is a two-way process.
Do you know someone affected by autism? Invite them to join the Autism Support community on HealthUnlocked for tips, advice and support from people who understand.
Written by Michelle Mould of Welldoing.org
Michelle Mould is a psychotherapeutic counsellor, you can contact her on welldoing.org