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Monday, 20 November 2017

Making your therapy practice autism friendly

I think it was Temple Grandin (one of the first people to share her experience of having autism publicly) who suggested that living with Asperger's Syndrome was like living in a world where everyone else speaks Shakespearean English. You get the gist of things, and you pick up enough to get by, but you also know there's a lot you are missing that everyone else seems to understand. So just pause, and think for a moment what that would be like.

What is autism?

Autism is defined by the National Autistic Society (NAS) as 'a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them' [1]

People on the autistic spectrum might have problems in four main areas:

  • communication: some people on the autistic spectrum don’t use spoken language at all, others may use it in an unusual way. They may have verbal tics, or need to plan ahead for what to say instead of simply responding to you, especially when they feel under pressure. Many autistic people don’t use or recognise non-verbal communications, such as body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions. This can lead to trouble interpreting someone else's mood or intention (for example, if they are joking or being serious).
  • social interaction: because of the above, many people with autism find it difficult to interact with others. (This is where that Shakespearean idea comes in. ) They can also be very sensitive to sensory input, including visuals, sound and smell, so crowds can be overwhelming. Even ordinary conversation may feel uncomfortably loud.
  • imagination: for some autistic people it's hard to imagine the world from a different point of view (sometimes called 'de-centering'). This can make it difficult to understand what someone else could be thinking or feeling, or to predict what they might do next. This constant sense of uncertainty can often lead to high levels of anxiety.
  • limited planning ability:  because it’s difficult to imagine things being different from how they are now, coping with change can be difficult for those with autism. So can making plans, because it’s difficult to envisage both the different steps needed on the journey, and the ultimate goal.

Autistic individuality

It's important to remember that the notes above are broad generalisations. Every person with autism is different, and will be affected in each of these areas to a different degree, meaning essentially that everyone has their own unique version of autism. This is one reason it's called a 'spectrum disorder'.

So, exactly like everyone else, people with autism need to be seen, first and foremost, as individuals.

Is your therapy practice autism friendly?

Around 700,000 people in the UK (more than 1% of us) are thought to be autistic, so it' s very likely that some of your clients are on the autistic spectrum. Whether or not your contact with them is related to their autism, the condition is part how they respond to and understand the world, and understanding it can help you work with them more effectively.

You can make a few changes to the way you work to support those with ASD and make it easier for them to access your services. Here are just a few ideas

  • write down information you normally give verbally, or send appointment reminders in different ways
  • use words in a literal way and avoid metaphors or slang unless you are sure your client understands them
  • create a quiet atmosphere, reducing bright lights and background noises
  • make things as predictable as you can, plan sessions well in advance and don’t re-schedule unless it’s absolutely unavoidable
  • (most importantly) recognise that a diagnosis of autism doesn't stop your client being an individual, ask them if they need extra help and what they need

If you want to know more about autism, and gets lots of other ideas about making your practice more accessible to those on the spectrum, we have a FREE course on the subject. It’s been written by Debbie Waller, an experienced hypnotherapy author and trainer, and her daughter Rachel, who is also a published author and on the Autistic spectrum herself. Get details and sign up at https://www.cpd.expert/free-cpd/autism  
If you've found this article because you're looking for a therapist who is aware of the challenges of being on the spectrum, please email Debbie for a list of those in your area who have taken this course.



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Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on
Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training - multi accredited hypnotherapy practitioner training, taster days and foundation levels.
CPD Expert - accredited CPD and other therapy training (online and workshops options), expert and qualified hypnotherapy supervision

1 comment:

  1. Very informative, keep posting such sensible articles, it extremely helps to grasp regarding things.