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Autism & Psychotherapy

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Psychotherapy with Children and Young People on the Autistic Spectrum.

Children and young people on the autistic spectrum require an insightful and sensitive therapeutic approach that is flexible enough to respond to frequently changing perceptions and needs.

The autistic spectrum includes a wide range of presentations and difficulties. Even though a common diagnosis may have been applied each person on the spectrum comes to therapy with individual experience, personality and requirements.

In the treatment of the autistic client account must be taken of co-morbid conditions and associated mental health difficulties that can arise alongside an autistic spectrum diagnosis.

Reasons for Therapeutic Input

Children and young people on the autistic spectrum require help with all the typical reasons for referral to therapy such as adverse circumstances and trauma. However, people on the autistic spectrum also frequently require help with understanding themselves and their condition. Support to deal with the tasks and demands of daily life is an important aspect of maintaining appropriate behaviours and managing anxiety and stress. Sometimes the neutral space a therapist offers away from the expectations and pressure of family or school is ideally placed to provide this support.

What happens in therapy?

1:1 Therapy

At its simplest level therapy may take the form of active drawing out of a client, helping them to engage, co operate and play. This has the effect of vitalising and bringing alive the client in the therapeutic relationship in order to begin exploring their life and circumstances.

At a more complex level the therapist may work descriptively. Here the therapist describes a client’s actions and lends meaning to events and actions by describing feelings the client may be experiencing.

A higher level of intervention involves explanation. The therapist offers a choice of interpretations to guide the client towards understanding. This requires the client to be able to hold two separate feelings or thoughts and their causality in mind.

Often one therapy session will include a variety of these interventions.

Therapeutic Help in the Wider World

Often children and parents benefit from an advocate when managing professionals involved with care and education. The therapist can support by offering empathic explanations of the child’s abilities, perceptions, needs and skills. Therapists can help with strategies for behavioural concerns and ideas for encouraging and developing social interaction.

Through therapy and advocacy clients may be able to find their own voice and learn to understand themselves. This can lead to more successful educational and social outcomes and a happier life experience for the child and their family.


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