Counselling For Autism & Addiction
Autism spectrum disorder which is commonly referred to as ASD or simple, autism is a condition which affects patients for life. The disorder is a type of neurodevelopmental disability but it is important to remember that this is not an illness and as such, there is no cure. The brain of a person with autism functions in a different way to someone without the condition. This is why autism and drug or alcohol addiction can often have a severely negative effect on the individual’s life.
Autism can affect sufferers’ social and communication skills, and can be divided into three main types:
- Atypical autism is a mild form of autism when the sufferer suffers from only a few of the symptoms of autism
- Asperger syndrome is also a mild form of autism. Sufferers are typically highly functioning
- Classic autism is classed as an ‘intellectual disability’. Sufferers of the condition may not learn to speak until they are three or four years old
Around 1 in 88 children suffer from the condition. Autism occurs when various parts of the brain fail to work collectively. With it being a spectrum disorder, the symptoms of autism vary greatly among people who suffer from the disorder. There are some traits which are most commonly seen in a lot of patients which are:
- Difficulty in communicating is a common trait of an autistic person. They find it hard to understand the nuances of communication such as sarcasm or figures of speech. In addition to this, people with autism may not be as easily able to pick up on body language or other non-verbal forms of communication
- Sensitivity to Sensory stimulus is frequently seen in those with ASD which can cause difficulties in day to day life. Some people may find light difficult whereas others might be averse to various textures or sounds
- Repetitive behaviour and routine are an integral part of the life of a person with autism and it can be difficult if these routines are interrupted, meaning that should an autistic person need to alter their routine, careful planning is required
- Highly focused interests may consume large parts of a person’s life. Many autistic people develop an interest during their early years which continues to grow whereas others might change interests regularly, becoming very involved with each one
The Link Between Autism & Addiction
Studies have suggested a causal link between autism and the development of addiction. However, modern science has failed to offer up compelling reasons for this link. One school of thought is that sufferers of autism are more likely to struggle with social interactions. These people may consume alcohol in order to ‘cover up’ feelings of social ineptness. Alcohol or drugs may cause people with autism to feel more outgoing and less self-conscious.
Another rather contrary school of thought suggests that those with autism are more likely to drink alcohol alone. They thus consume alcohol purely for the effects of alcohol, rather for the social benefits that drinking alcohol may bring.
Furthermore, some believe there is a genetic link between autism and addiction. For instance, alcoholism is more prevalent in families where at least one person sufferers with autism.
One study carried out in Australia claims those with milder symptoms of autism are most at risk of developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Sufferers of classic autism are far less likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
What Counselling for Autism & Addiction Involves?
Counselling for autism and addiction will be led by someone who specialises in working with people with ASD. They will not only work with the patient themselves but will also be highly adept at working alongside those close to the person including family and other people in a position of care.
These highly trained counsellors can provide an environment that feels safe for the autistic person to talk freely without fearing they will not be understood. Quite often, it can difficult for family and friends to understand how the person feels. So, it may be refreshing to open up to someone who does.
You can expect to receive a level of counselling that is suitable to your needs, whether that is short term or long term in duration as well as receiving some good advice on ASD. Many services will also provide you with ‘one-off’ support services for times when you need quick help when things flare-up. In addition to this, you will have direct contact details for the service should you have any questions or concerns outside of your session times.
There may be times when it is not possible for you to attend a face to face meeting and so you will have the option for a video or telephone session. It may also be possible for your therapist to work with you in an alternative setting such as at your place of education.
Why ‘Normal Therapy’ Might Not Work for People With Autism & Addiction
It is not uncommon for people with autism to develop various mental health conditions. These include depression or OCD. For this reason, counselling for autism may be considered. However, taking a ‘normal’ approach to therapy may not be effective in a patient with ASD since their brain does not function in the same way.
If a therapist attempts to provide counselling sessions that are not designed specifically for a person with autism, the treatment may be ineffective at best or leave the person feeling as though their challenges are even more difficult, at worst.
Take CBT as an example. This form of therapy requires a person to be able to effectively communicate their needs with the counsellor, a person with ASD may not be able to do this to a level that will allow the treatment to be of benefit. In addition to this, certain types of therapy require the person to reflect on past experiences which can be more challenging for a person with autism.
Many people with the condition think in a black and white manner. This means that if they attend one course of therapy that does not have an effect, they may brand all types of therapy in this way and refuse to seek further support.
Counselling Approaches for People with Autism & Addiction
Autism is a broad spectrum and for this reason, there is not one simple counselling approach that will be suitable. Many forms of therapy may be applied for those with autism, including the following:
CBT has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of childhood depression, anxiety and OCD and it can be successfully used for those with autism when adapted to suit their needs’ can help a person to identify negative thoughts and as a result, challenge them and change the behaviours that they cause.
This can be particularly useful for people with autism in tackling one-track thinking, polarised thinking or fantastical thinking.
This may be beneficial for autistic people as it takes a very clear and concise approach which is conducive with the way that the autistic brain functions.
This therapy helps patients to manage situations which may arise in the future and can be very effective in those with Asperger’s which is a form of autism.
These approaches re used as a way of looking deeper into the unconscious mind and can help those with autism improve in areas such as relationships and self-awareness. However, many people with the condition may find this type of treatment a challenge so it should be approached mindfully.
Treatment for Autism & Addiction- Establishing A Support Network
When providing therapeutic support for a person with autism, a detailed approach must be taken. This cannot be done without bringing other people into the mix. This can include parents, brothers and sisters and other family members as well as figures from school, work and other authorities. All of whom can act as a component within the support network.
It is important to think about who the person is in the present and what the future might look like for them. There can then be a support team created which will be able to assist in many areas of life. For example, relationships, schooling, health, communication, independent living and sensory difficulties, among others.
The Importance of Counselling for Autism & Dual Diagnosis
There may be other conditions present in an individual who has been given a diagnosis of autism. It is important to consider these when providing counselling for autism. In some cases, there may be confusion surrounding the diagnosis. This is because ASD commonly features similar traits to other mental health conditions.
When thinking about schizophrenia, the similarities lie in communication difficulties as well as highly focused interests. In addition to this, many of those with schizophrenia may claim to hear voices and in an autistic person, thoughts may be considered to be voices inside the mind. Both conditions are often accompanied by feelings of paranoia.
Where depression is concerned, there is an overlap in the symptoms with autism. However, autistic people may also suffer from depression as a result of their diagnosis.
These symptoms may be expressed differently to what we usually see. For some people with autism, their lack of communication may mean that underlying depression is not recognised. In other cases, the difficulties may result in outbursts of aggression or anger.
Anxiety may present in a person with ASD and can come as a result of interruption to routine or other environmental factors. Many of the symptoms of anxiety are also traits of autism so it pays to be mindful not to confuse the two.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise referred to as OCD present as compulsive behaviours which the person cannot control and these behaviours are as a result of obsessive thoughts. However, some of these actions are also commonly seen in those with autism such as taking part in repetitive behaviours.
How Useful Are Group Interventions in Autism Addiction Counselling?
Many people with autism find social skills difficult to learn and implement. But it may be surprising to learn that group sessions can be particularly helpful when used alongside one to one therapy. These allow the individual to gain new social skills in a safe environment, often with other people facing similar struggles. In this situation, a person with autism may be able to more clearly pick up on their strengths, giving them a heightened feeling of confidence.
Many of those with autism find making friends a challenge. But these groups provide an opportunity to create new social circles and share common goals. In a group setting, people may look at how to manage change, how to alter certain behaviours and how to develop skills.
What Factors Are Addressed in Autism Addiction Counselling?
With autism being such a complex and varied condition, many factors may need to be addressed throughout counselling treatment. Some of these factors may include:
- Affective education allows the person to gain an understanding of emotions which cause problems and is used within a course of CBT. The person with autism may often struggle with these concepts. But this treatment will teach them how their emotions work, how to identify them and how to respond to them
- Sensory difficulties are common among autistic people but by building self-awareness these problems may be lessened. In addition to this, the person may be encouraged to explore sensory activities and find ways of managing their difficulties
- Emotion management is important for those with autism since regulating and understanding their emotions can be difficult. Being able to manage their emotions will likely reduce any negative behaviours associated with them
- Social skills are an integral part of life. But with many autistic people struggling with them, addressing the issue is vital in helping them live a fulfilled life. They need to gain an understanding as to why having them is important – even if the person with ASD does not have the desire to implement these social skills
- Social knowledge plays a part in autism counselling. It’s a way for them to understand the unspoken rules in a society that many neurotypical people can read without even thinking about it
- Intimacy and relationships can be challenging for those with autism. Many people engage in inappropriate sexual behaviours are unable to understand healthy relationships and the emotions relating to them. Counselling should work through these issues and give the autistic person knowledge of these important social skills
- Social anxiety is often experienced amongst the autistic community. This is as a result of their difficulty in socialising the way neurotypical people do. The counsellor may help the person understand what to expect in certain social settings as well as taking part in role-play to practise their skills
- Self-understanding can be difficult for many of us but this is exacerbated in those with ASD. Gaining an understanding of who they are might be achieved by looking at family trees, exploring how others react to them, exploring their likes and dislikes or looking at role models
Finding A Therapist or Counsellor
There are multiple to access support through a counsellor or therapist. The first being through your family GP who can refer to you to a suitable service.
You might also approach a local organisation who can put you in touch with a counsellor. This could be a place of employment, school or a local charity.
There is also the option to go through a private service if your financial situation allows. But, in this instance, it is important to check that the therapist specialises in patients with autism. It is also important to ask plenty of questions surrounding fees, session length and other things you may be curious about.
What Should I Be Looking for In A Counsellor?
Whilst there are no laws that state a counsellor should have certain qualifications to work with autistic people, it may be wise to select someone who has experience in the area. What’s more, you should be sure that the counsellor offers the right services for your needs.
CBT is one of the most preferred. This seems to have a better result on the problems experienced by people with autism such as quelling repetitive thoughts and helping with anxiety.
A counsellor who works well with autistic people will likely use more visual aids to help with any communication difficulties.
Why the Communication Style of The Counsellor Is Important
It is important when dealing with a person with ASD that the counsellor communicates in a way that does not come across in an over-professional manner. This may not be as easily interpreted by the person, resulting in the treatment being less effective.
It is also important that the counsellor shows a sense of understanding and lets the person know that they can trust them. Many autistic people will place a high value on what a counsellor is saying, making communication even more important.
How Long Does Autism Addiction Treatment Last?
Most commonly, people on the autism spectrum will be offered a limited course of counselling. This usually spans across six individual sessions. However, during this time it is possible to tackle a wide range of issues. For example, developing new coping techniques and life skills which will help them once counselling has ended.
That being said, there are many services which are now operating a lifelong service to clients with autism. The length of each of these treatments will depend on the current circumstances and problems encountered by the individual. Using this method, people with autism will be able to access sessions which exceed the usual 50-minute limit. This gives them more freedom to explore their thoughts and needs, therefore making treatment a more fruitful experience.
One of the most notable aspects of autism counselling is that the therapist will include the patient in when they next wish to be seen and for how long. This enables the person to feel more in control of the sessions. For many autistic people, sleep is an issue. Many people struggling to sleep until the early hours of the morning. For this reason, afternoon sessions may be more beneficial and with the patient-led treatment style, these needs can be more easily met.
Can Itself Autism Be ‘Cured?’
Whilst there exists no ‘cure’ for autism, there does exist a number of clinical and psychological treatments that are proven to relieve the symptoms of autism. These treatments are far more effective and far less dangerous than taking drugs or drinking alcohol.
Below, we list a number of proven treatments that are known to relieve the symptoms of autism:
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Medications designed to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
- Behavioural training management techniques