Neurodiversity-friendly therapy is an approach to therapy that recognises and values the diversity of neurological and cognitive differences among individuals, including but not limited to autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological conditions. This approach aims to create a safe and accepting therapeutic environment where neurodivergent individuals can receive support and guidance without being pathologised or stigmatised for their differences.
Neurodiversity-friendly therapy approaches neurodivergence as a natural and valuable part of human diversity, rather than as a disorder or deficit. This approach prioritises building a positive and empowering self-identity for the individual and seeks to help them identify and utilise their unique strengths and abilities. It also emphasises a collaborative and respectful therapeutic relationship, where the therapist works with the individual to identify their goals and needs and tailor the therapy approach to meet their individual needs.
Some of the key elements of neurodiversity-friendly therapy include recognising and accommodating sensory differences, using clear and concise communication, avoiding pathologising language, being flexible in approach, and valuing the individual’s experiences and perspectives. This approach can be especially important for neurodivergent individuals who have had negative experiences with traditional therapy approaches that fail to recognise or accommodate their unique needs and experiences. By providing a safe and supportive therapeutic environment, neurodiversity-friendly therapy can help neurodivergent individuals to develop greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and confidence in their abilities, leading to improved quality of life and greater social success.
What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) is a neurological and developmental condition that affects social communication and behaviour. It is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviours or interests. These symptoms can cause significant impairment in daily life, including communication and emotional regulation.
A late diagnosed autistic individual is someone who receives a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition(ASC) later in life, typically in adolescence or adulthood, after living for an extended period without understanding or awareness of their autism. This can occur for a number of reasons, including a lack of awareness or understanding of autism in the individual or in their environment, masking or camouflaging behaviours that can make it difficult for others to recognise their autism, or a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose in earlier years.
Late diagnosis can lead to a range of unique challenges and experiences for the individual, including a sense of relief and validation in understanding themselves better, as well as potential feelings of isolation, confusion, and difficulty accessing appropriate support and resources.
Neurodiversity-friendly therapy can help late diagnosed autistic people learn skills and tools to improve communication, regulating emotions, and building confidence in navigating the world. This is especially important for late-diagnosed autistic people. They’ve struggled for decades in a world that doesn’t understand them, that’s not set up to accommodate them, trying to manage their sensory sensitivities and learn seemingly arbitrary social rules to enable them to get by in society.
Areas That Neurodiversity-Friendly Therapy can Support Late Diagnosed Autistics
Communication is one of the most common challenges for autistic individuals. There are a number of different therapy techniques that can help improve communication by reducing anxiety and improving self-confidence. Hypnotherapy or EMDR can help autistic individuals feel more relaxed in social situations, which can make it easier for them to engage in conversation. Often growing up autistic individuals have experienced significant bullying and mockery which makes them fearful and hesitant to engage in social interactions.
Trauma therapy allows the mind to process past traumatic situations and learn new ways of understanding and interpreting events. Additionally, communication tools like Non-Violent Communication can help individuals focus on their communication skills, which can lead to improved clarity and articulation.
Becoming comfortable with and embracing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can be effective tools for autistic individuals who struggle with verbal communication. AAC refers to a range of methods and devices, such as communication boards, picture exchange communication systems (PECS), and speech-generating devices, that can help people express themselves. These tools can be used by anyone who struggles to express themselves verbally, no matter the reason.
By providing an alternative means of communication, AAC can improve your ability to express your wants, needs, and emotions, and can help reduce frustration and anxiety related to communication difficulties. AAC can also be used in conjunction with other therapy techniques, such as social skills training, to support improved communication and social interactions.
Another therapy tool that can actively support autistic people to communicate better is social skills training. This type of therapy aims to teach individuals how to navigate social situations more effectively, such as how to initiate and maintain conversations, and understand other social skills like reading nonverbal cues and facial expressions. By learning these skills, autistic individuals can feel more comfortable and confident in social settings, which can lead to improved communication and social relationships. While teaching these skills to children and forcing them to use them is considered borderline abusive by many in the autistic community, as adults many autistic people actively want to learn skills and tools to help them better navigate social situations.
The goal of neurodiversity-friendly therapy is to support you to achieve the goals that you find important. If you want to learn how to mask more effectively in certain situations, that’s great! If you want to learn how to unmask and communicate using AAC, that’s also awesome. You get to choose.
Hypnotherapy can also be a useful tool for emotional regulation, as it can help individuals relax and reduce feelings of anxiety or stress. While in hypnosis autistic individuals can tap into their inner self and gain more trust and understanding of their impressions and experiences. Because of the way our brains work, we take in a lot of information that neurotypical people simply don’t and our subconscious mind can sort it for us and help us to figure out what’s important and what isn’t if it’s asked and guided towards serving this purpose.
One technique used in hypnotherapy for emotion regulation is progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body to promote relaxation and reduce tension. This technique can be particularly useful for autistic individuals who experience physical sensations when experiencing strong emotions. Moving the attention from the part of the body that is reacting to another part may feel confusing or difficult at first, practice and patience is a part of the process. Running though all therapy sessions is a message of compassion and patience.
Effective Anxiety and Depression Support
About three out of four autistic adults have depression or anxiety, and difficulties with managing emotions are believed to influence these problems. Neurodiversity-friendly therapy understands that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Techniques like thought disputing often set up obsessive, looping thought patterns in autistic brains. Learning to recognise and understand what different emotions feel like can play a large part in starting to shift recurring low moods and anxieties.
One technique used in neurodiversity affirming therapy for confidence-building is Cognitive Restructuring. Cognitive Restructuring involves identifying negative self-beliefs and replacing them with positive and realistic self-beliefs. This technique can be particularly useful for autistic individuals who struggle with social anxiety or low self-esteem. EMDR can be used here to help people understand events in the past in a new and different light. We can’t change the event, but we can change how you understand it and how you explain it to yourself.
An important aspect of confidence building is really embracing being who you truly are. Quirks and all. A confident person can ask for what they need, without feeling worried or ashamed. They’re able to use alternative forms of communication if and when they need to, to request that the TV is turned off when they get home so they can have some silence within which to collect themselves or to engage in stimming behaviour which calms and regulates their nervous system.
Regulation and Management of Sensory Stimuli
While there’s no magic wand which will enable you to suddenly learn the skills to filter out sensory stimuli, there are tools and techniques which can support you to experience the world more comfortably. Many autistic people regularly experience sensory overwhelm and it causes them to withdraw, needing to reset themselves. Together we can explore a range of tools, adaptation, and psychosensory techniques to help you better filter your experience of the world helping you to feel calmer and more capable.
Late-diagnosed autistic individuals face unique challenges in their journey towards self-understanding and self-acceptance. They may have struggled for years without understanding why they feel and act differently than their peers, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. In light of this, it is especially important for late-diagnosed autistic people to seek out neurodiversity-friendly therapy that recognises and respects their unique perspective and experiences.
Integrative therapy is an approach that recognizes and values neurodiversity, and can be especially effective for late-diagnosed autistic individuals. By combining a range of therapeutic techniques, integrative therapy can address the complex and varied challenges that autistic individuals may face. This can include communication difficulties, sensory processing issues, emotional dysregulation, and self-esteem and confidence concerns.
Through techniques such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, EMDR, Cognitive Restructuring, and hypnotherapy, autistic individuals can learn coping skills, develop self-awareness and self-acceptance, and build confidence in their abilities. I’m a skilled and patient therapist, and I can help clients to set achievable goals, and to work towards their version of success. This could include improving social skills, finding a fulfilling career, or developing a stronger sense of identity and purpose.
Ultimately, good therapy is about working collaboratively with clients to achieve their unique goals. Neurodiversity-friendly therapy recognises that every individual is different, and tailors therapy approaches to meet the needs of the individual. For late-diagnosed autistic individuals, it’s crucial to find a therapist who understands the challenges they face and is committed to helping them live a more fulfilling and satisfying life. With the right support, it is possible for late-diagnosed autistic individuals to build a strong sense of self and thrive in a world that may not always understand them.
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