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Autism & Special Needs Counseling

"Some of the most wonderful people are those who don't fit into boxes." ~ Tori Amos

Counseling individuals who fall onto the autism spectrum can require a unique subset of therapeutic skills that are not always taught in most graduate programs. Most common therapeutic skills are still relevant, such as showing empathy, active listening, socratic questioning, etc. However, adolescents and young adults with ASD have an additional set of needs that is important to address. Metaphors and analogies are common in the therapy room but may not be effective when working with an individual on the autism spectrum. When relaying information to a client with ASD, the utilization of concrete and relatable examples helps to reduce the chances of a misunderstanding in therapy. It is important to note that frequent check-ins with the client may be necessary due to the potential inability to correct a misinterpretation from the therapist or to speak up about a question that they do not understand. It is important to utilize the client’s strengths and abilities while focusing on their areas of need rather than their specific diagnosis, especially since ASD falls along a continuum. 


When it comes to setting goals, it is essential to involve the client in the goal development process. This allows the counselor to engage with and utilize the client’s areas of strength in therapy. Many clients with ASD require additional support from teachers and parents, and will require additional focus from their counselor to ensure their needs are being met. Some goals specific to ASD may include; social connections, independent living skills, and personal hygiene. It also may be necessary when appropriate to engage with the client’s family to ensure that you are meeting the needs of the client as well as to ensure that treatment goals are being followed outside of the therapy room. 


The types of therapy that are most effective are play therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that utilizes rewards to reinforce positive behaviors and to teach new skills. This form of therapy has proven to be effective because it offers feedback from moment to moment and has proven to make lasting positive changes. Presenting a reward system for positive behaviors helps to reinforce the positive behavior and increase the likelihood of that positive behavior returning. While negative behaviors are generally ignored or corrected which will decrease the likelihood of that negative behavior returning. Because Autism falls onto a spectrum, not every client will respond the same way. Consistency and reliability are key when it comes to treating someone with ASD. 


It is generally young children and adolescents with autism who benefit from early counseling. When it comes to counseling adults with autism, the treatment plans may look a bit different. Adult clients with autism generally benefit more from goals like; building self-control, controlling emotions, being more flexible, working on communication skills, and reducing anxiety. It is important for a counselor working with a client population with ASD to be informed about the disorder and to understand the daily challenges of living with autism. Like in any other form of counseling, the best resource is the client themselves as well as their families. Working closely with the clients and their families leads to better treatment outcomes. 

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