Our understanding of Autism and neurodiversity is changing rapidly, and thank goodness! While researchers and evaluators once had a very clear picture of what autism “looks like,” we are increasingly realizing that autism is far more diverse than we realized, particularly for individuals who identify as female.
Per the DSM 5, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) struggle to understand the perspective of others, to engage in the social back-and-forth required in conversations, and can be very literal. These folks also have tremendous strengths that would ideally be incorporated into educational, vocational, and social treatment plans.
Anecdotally, my clients tell me that they “appear successful” at work or in friendships due to significant effort on their part, and are subsequently exhausted. They feel somehow different than those around them, and work very hard to fit in. Many have also mentioned that once they learn about neurodiversity, it feels as though a burden has been lifted, and they have a new understanding of their life experiences.
With respect to diagnosis, it is important to note that for some folks, the diagnostic label is imperative; others care less about diagnostics, and care more about functional strategies for success. Both approaches are just fine.
Many treatments exist to help address diagnostic symptoms associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, though there is no known “cure.” Further, there is often a debate about the treatment of symptoms. Some argue that treatment is not necessary, and removes the “uniqueness” of the person. Others, however, feel that teaching coping skills (particularly around anxiety), social skills, and emotional identification and emotional sharing skills enhances life experiences.
For example, many individuals with ASD make limited eye contact, which can be misconstrued as dishonesty, or a lack of motivation – such as during an interview. In these circumstances, it makes sense to know when and how to make eye contact, how long to maintain the eye contact, and how to ask clarifying questions and connect with others. The limited eye contact is otherwise left unaddressed, because it isn’t a problem!
Treatment for ASD generally involves social skills training, learning to identify and share feelings, and learning/deciding if and when to apply the “rules of engagement.” Increasingly, adults, including married individuals who have struggled for years, are presenting for treatment. Sometimes couples therapy is appropriate, with the goal of improved communication in the relationship.
Resources for Individuals with Autism
Parents often have questions about the best way to support their children (both young and grown). Parents are always welcome, with or without their children. We can discuss how best to support their loved ones, and how to help young adults find jobs, housing, and supportive relationships.
- For additional local resources, see https://thesociallearningproject.com/
- A newer resource for women: https://www.spectrumwomen.com/
- For social communication skills: https://www.socialthinking.com/
- For national resources: http://www.autism-society.org