I had an interesting conversation with an autistic woman in Great Britain about mental health and autism. For one, I learned that autism has nothing to do with mental health. This is true as the problems autistics face have to do with society’s unwillingness to accept them for who they are.
As Mental Health month progresses, I’d like to address the problem of autistics in therapy and such. things as psychiatry treatments. For one, some autistics don’t benefit from psychiatric treatments because society is trying to reverse their nonconformist ways. For another, therapy can sometimes get frustrating for folks with autism if the wrong source is pinpointed and the trauma is not blamed on what it should be blamed on, which leads to my next point.
Many autistics in the U.S. schools are subjected to unnecessary punishments and spankings, overwhelming sensory overload or deprivation, or injury because of their autistic differences. Teachers in public schools here pay closer attention to those of color, females, and other minority groups compounded by the spectrum.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, but that went out the window because for one, most Asperger’s or high “functioning” autistics are usually males, but females make up a good portion of the diagnostic statistics. I’m not on the spectrum, and my mother, who wanted this diagnosis, was not a qualified diagnostic clinician so she should never have said I had pervasive developmental disorder either. These diagnoses were designed, in my parents’ mind, so they could ruin my chances of getting a job, a mate, a house, and more income than the paltry government allowance. Autistics find it just as hard as blind people to get jobs. So how should treatment providers deal with this?
First, what’s the reason your autistic client is in your office? IS it a greedy parent who wants you to “fix” your child? Is it your client’s inability to find a suitable mate or job? IS it traumatic circumstances such as grief, sensory overload at school, etc.? Was it rape? Figure out the reason by talking directly to the client, and listen to the client’s representatives. IF the parents expect you to “fix my child”, I would recommend explaining that family dynamics have to focus on the most marginalized member, and forcing the member to conform to the able person’s perspective is not a good idea. I wish this had been noticed, as when my parents took me to therapists, they ultimately treated me like a broken piece that needed to be fixed, but they didn’t want to fix themselves. Autistics have the unique challenge of parents who sometimes want to get money from the child as other disabled children face this too. Autistics have differing social constructs and scripts that parents sometimes don’t want to or know how to read. Therapists should take the cue if they see this.
IF an autistic person in treatment/recovery does not have enough income for out patient treatment, therapists should make it their mission to keep autistics out of in patient treatment by lowering their fees because of places like the Judge Rodenberg Center, which uses shock devices to keep the autistics conforming to what the staff wants. This should be discouraged as the shock treatments shouldn’t be present, but if they are, they damage someone who is subjected to it beyond repair. It will take years for treatment to have any effect.
Therapists should realize that autistics are not going to give you eye contact, and neither will totally blind people with sunken eyes. Autistics like to think in pictures, so I think art therapy will give you a clue as to what the person is thinking or what’s bothering them, just as other clients without disabilities or who aren’t autistic will want to use art to depict their traumatic event, their hopes and dreams, or what their future should look like.
Therapists should realize that a high rate of abuse occurs among disabled and autistic clientel, so treatment with family involved may not work. In patient treatment is not recommended for autistics because other patients might perceive them unfavorably, staff might abuse them, and they could be given the wrong set of constructs or scripts given they could have been abuse victims.
Trauma victims who are autistic should be given the same treatment but with a few small changes. Besides lack of eye contact, autistics should be allowed to bring a service animal into therapy. IF an autistic has fear of dogs, a therapy dog might be able to help with exposure to good dog behavior in the animals. Autistics should be invited to, for example, pet the dog and watch carefully with their senses any body language that indicates love, respect, loyalty. Dogs are probably the best teachers, and horses as well. Animal therapy should be greatly encouraged for autistics and others because if you can connect good with animals, that is a sign that you’re not too far gone. Animal therapy is also helpful for abduction victims, but no matter what the ability is, people and animals can teach love and respect to those who have an 80% likelihood not to have felt it. Dogs and horses are the best examples I can come up with, but cats are also very empathic given their nature. If you’re afraid of rats, no matter what is different about you, holding a tamed rat might work. A good therapist also should let their clients run around outdoors and do therapeutic activities such as play fetch with dogs, ride horses, or paint on the legs of a horse or the hairs on the back of a dog. A goat might work, but bear in mind that a goat can’t go on a plane with you. Recently, airlines have had to crack down on exotic animals, which is fine up to a point.
As a blind woman who did recovery treatment, I will talk about blindness specific problems faced in recovery another day.