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Autism & Neurodivergence

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th ed. (APA, 2013), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that affects approximately 2% of the U.S. population (Maenner, 2020) and is characterized by (1) difficulties in social communication, and (2) stereotypic, restrictive, or repetitive patterns of behavior. However, many people view this as a narrow and pejorative description of autism and are instead embracing autism as an identity to be understood and celebrated, including abandoning the use of the word "disorder" altogether.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about autism, including the following:

1. It’s “obvious” when someone is autistic.

2. People with autism have either very low IQ (less than a third of autistic individuals meet criteria for intellectual disability) or very high IQ (i.e., “savants”).

3. The goal of treatment with an autistic person is to make them “look less autistic". 

4. Everyone who meets criteria for autism uses the same language to describe themselves (actually, some people prefer the term "autistic person", whereas others prefer "person with autism").

There's another problem, though: very few of the existing evidence-based treatments (e.g., DBT, exposure-based treatments) have been adapted for autistic individuals, even though psychological difficulties are present at higher rates in autistic individuals compared to allistic people. Effectively adapted treatments would need to take into account that autistic people often 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 (e.g., the TIP skill in DBT). Or, they would benefit more effectively if the skills incorporated their area of focused interest (e.g., Magic cards, machines, clocks, super heroes).

 

At TAP, we take a neurodiversity-affirming approach, meaning that we do not view autism as a disorder to be “fixed” but rather a learning style to be understood and incorporated into 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). As a clinic, we have sought to increase our knowledge in this area to be more effective and inclusive in our delivery of evidence-based treatments of mental health difficulties (e.g., depression, anxiety, self-harm) for individuals who are neurodivergent. Thus, we encourage neurodivergent individuals interested in services at TAP to feel very free to share what they'd like with us about their neurodivergence in addition to describing any other psychological or emotional difficulties they would like to focus on.  

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