Autism Spectrum disorder
What it is:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects just under 2% of the U.S. population (Maenner, 2020), although prevalence rates have been increasing significantly in recent years. ASD is characterized by (1) difficulties in social communication, and (2) stereotypic, restrictive, or repetitive patterns of behavior. Autistic individuals may show very narrow ranges of interest, engage in rigid thinking patterns, have a strong preference for routines and rules, and have difficulty interpreting social cues or maintaining eye contact. There are a lot of misconceptions about autism, including that it’s “obvious” when someone is autistic, or that people with autism have either very low IQ (66% of autistic individuals do not meet criteria for intellectual disability!) or very high IQ (i.e., “savants”). Another misconception is that autism needs to be treated so that autistic individuals “look more” like non-autistic people (also known as “allistic” or “neurotypical”).
One thing that is true, though, is that psychological difficulties are present at higher rates in autistic individuals compared to allistic people. In addition, very few of the existing evidence-based treatments have been adapted for autistic individuals, who often learn in ways that differ from neurotypical people. Effectively adapted treatments would need to take into account that autistic people generally learn better with more visual cues and behavioral practice, rather than by reading lots of words on a page. In addition, they may be overstimulated by – or just not connect with – skills that are often taught to alleviate emotional distress. Or, they would benefit more effectively if the skills incorporated their area of focused interest (e.g., Magic cards, machines, clocks).
AT TAP, we do not view autism as a disorder to be “fixed” but rather a learning style to be understood and incorporated into the treatment. In addition, we do not offer clinical services that are focused solely on autism (for that, we refer families to the many wonderful autism resources in our community). However, as we have observed the increasing rates of autism, we have sought to increase our knowledge in this area as a clinic to be more effective in our delivery of evidence-based treatments of mental health difficulties (e.g., depression, anxiety, self-harm) for individuals who are neurodivergent.
At the present time, we offer a DBT skills training group for neurodivergent adolescents (including ADHD and/or ASD).