Differences in thinking can have a huge impact on a person’s social interaction and ability to handle problems as they arise. In addition, living with ASD can be isolating, socially frustrating and filled with many new challenges as people transition to adulthood. For someone who experience reality differently – especially where targeted services, supports and social opportunities are not available – navigating the world of relationships can be very frustrating.
Professional counselling services can provide invaluable support for children, adults and youths with ASD, as well as for families and couples affected by ASD. Some of the core difficulties in ASD such as inflexible thinking, communication deficits, social confusion and problems with understanding or expressing emotion in the usual ways can make counselling people with ASD a real challenge, especially if one is relying on standard counselling tools such as talk therapy. The psychologist, psychiatrist or behavior therapist should be trained in ASD conditions and be experienced in dealing with the different realities of individuals with an ASD condition.
A therapist may use cognitive and mindfulness-based therapies to work with a client to relive stress, anxiety, depression, and phobias. They may also provide therapy to family members and parents to help them cope. Sometimes a behavior therapist will specialize in extreme behaviours and can work with the individual and the family on strategies to avert and manage behaviours more effectively.
Is ASD a mental health problem?ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it is not a mental health issue per se. Many people assume that people with ASD are suffering from mental health problems just as they may assume that all people with ASD are mentally or cognitively impaired.
That said, individuals with ASDs tend to be more prone to higher rates of mental illness:
- The DSM4 still categorizes autism as a mental health disorder but there is great debate about whether this classification is appropriate.
- There may actually be higher medical, psychiatric and psycho-social needs in higher functioning people with autism and people with Aspergers, (includes such problems as epilepsy, medical disability, anxiety conditions, isolation, depression, etc.).
- There may also be a higher than normal level of psychiatric illness in late adolescence for people with both Aspergers and high functioning autism. This underscores the need for increased services for those with better language skills. High functioning does not necessarily mean lower support needs.
- Assessment is difficult in more affected individuals who may be non-verbal. Measures of behavior and experience may need to be developed differently for lower-functioning people with ASDs.
- Even questions of high and low functioning are debatable – we tend to categorize those who cannot speak as low-functioning and those who can, as high-functioning.
- More research and better literature is needed to explore these relationships.
Is violence a trait of ASD?
- Violent behavior is not a characteristic of autism. This is a common stereotype.
- Lashing out, tantrums, “melt downs” and other behavior problems can occur with ASDs as children and adults sometimes react to the world around them. This is not random and many individuals have particular triggers and warning signs.
- A person with ASD may find it very difficult to express their needs and can have very high frustration levels at not being able to communicate.
- They may also have difficulty responding to rapid transitions and changes – they may need more time than others to respond.
- Sometimes there are other physical and sensory problems which are hard for others to recognize.
- ASD can cause defensiveness which is different from aggression – people need to be better trained to know the difference.
- Any child or adult who is violent will need professional assessment and support.
- More public education is important to prevent assumptions and misunderstandings.
- Better evaluations and training is also needed so that people can better understand the needs of people with ASDs.
- Evaluation of policies such as law enforcement protocols and zero tolerance policies in schools must include attention to the realities for people on the spectrum.
The Ontario Association of Children's Mental Health Centres has produced an excellent best practices resource... [PDF].
Mental Health Canada/Santé Mentale Canada Inc.: National bilingual internet directory of 12,000 Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychoanalysts, Counsellors, Psychotherapists, and Social Workers. Public information and education resource on mental health concerns.
Studio III Group. The Studio III group comprises three individual companies, all of which promote the ideals, philosophies and benefits of non-aversive behaviour management.
The Total Transformation Program: A program created by behavioral therapist James Lehman, which offers practical, real-world solutions for challenges parents face such as defiance, disrespect, lying and cursing, among others.