Julia Bunch BA Hons MBACP
Counselling & Psychotherapy Redhill & Surrounding Area
Autism and Asperger Syndrome
‘A label should mark the beginning of exploration, not the end’
Classic (severe) Autism is a condition that is characterised by profound deficits in communication and social understanding and by ritualistic and obsessional behaviours. In the child’s early years concern tends to focus on abnormalities in communication, play or social skills or on repetitive behaviours. Growing up, their development is usually affected by cognitive impairment and the majority have some degree of associated learning disability, often profound.’
Asperger Syndrome, while it shares some obsessional and social-communication difficulties with Autism, is distinguished from Autism by the presence of normal or, in some areas, advanced or ‘gifted ’cognitive skills and a lack of early language delays.’
My own thoughts...
While this offers an accurate description of Autistic Spectrum Condition, it also sounds cold and clinical. It does nothing to capture the spirit or nature of anyone ‘on the spectrum’. My own experience of ‘classic autism’ that I have gained from raising my youngest son
(now 21) and my experience gained from the privilege of meeting and working with many people with Asperger Syndrome, makes this description hard to relate to. How would any of us fare under the close scrutiny and description of all that we lack, can’t do or struggle with?
While there are indeed significant challenges to be faced by those of us raising and living with someone with autism (and even greater challenges for those with the condition who have to live with and be raised by those of us without!), I’d like to add a few descriptive terms that seem to be missing. These would include; humorous, energetic, fun, quirky, unself-conscious, charismatic, bright, honest, genuine, kind, spirited, loving, individual, loyal, shy, innocent, surprising and highly creative. As Temple Grandin said in a lecture describing her positive experience of being on the Autistic Spectrum:
‘If none of us had been born on the Autistic Spectrum, we’d all still be sitting around in caves...talking!’
What would a counselling session feel like?
Counselling would be beneficial to clients with Asperger Syndrome, couples where one of you has Aspergers and to parents and family of children diagnosed with Autism.
My counselling style and approach will reflect my personal experience and professional understanding of Autism and Asperger Syndrome.
Talking about yourself and your feelings can feel very difficult and anxiety provoking, but you will find a relaxed, confidential and completely non-judgemental space here. Together we will search to find the best way forward in helping you express yourself and explore your difficulties. You won’t be hurried or pressured. Everything you say is valid; there are no ‘wrong’ answers, so no need to worry. Having Aspergers can bring some real challenges to situations others seem to take for granted, such as making friends, establishing relationships and getting on with people at work. School has often been an unhappy experience for many, leaving emotional scars. Together we can talk about difficult times you’ve been through and have a look at any problems in your current life, devising some strategies that will help. This will improve your self- confidence and lift your self-esteem.
Parents and family
The importance for parents, siblings and grandparents, who are supporting their loved one with autism, to be mindful of their own state of mind and develop ways of caring for themselves, cannot be over-stressed. When a child is diagnosed with a disability, it is natural that all the attention, both from professionals and at home should focus on the needs of the child. However, during this time, the needs of those closest to the child are often overlooked. Diagnosis of disability in a child can feel like a body blow to a parent. Parents are plunged into a sea of painful feelings such as shock, fear, crushing disappointment, grief, loss, anger, isolation and depression. They can find it hard to come to terms with the news and struggle to do this, often alone, while at the same time trying to support and raise their child, whose challenging behaviours can be baffling and frightening. Sometimes friends and family stop calling, as they don’t know what to say. The early days can be a very lonely time. In addition parents have to find their way around a bewildering array of services, schools and professionals etc. They find themselves in an alien landscape and the way forward is obscure.
The effect of a diagnosis of any disability in a child is felt throughout the family like shock waves. The needs of siblings and grandparents are also often overlooked. Grandparents have to worry about both their grandchild with the disability and their own child, who has suffered such a devastating blow. They report feeling powerless to help them or take away their pain. This can also be an isolating time for both parents and grandparents, as they realise they don’t know anyone in their situation and that they suddenly have less in common with their friends.
Siblings may also be overlooked while all attention goes to the child with a disability. Their parents are distracted and grieving. Young siblings often feel neglected or a sense of unfairness that their sibling’s ‘bad’ behaviours go unpunished, while they have to follow the rules. Their games can be spoiled and their things broken and they are often called on to help and are expected to grow up quickly to cope with this extra responsibility. In effect they become young carers, and their efforts and patience can go overlooked and unrewarded by stressed and overtired parents.
Coping with all the extra stress involved in raising an autistic child, while struggling with difficult emotions puts a huge pressure on the parents’ relationship and marriage. Without enough support, many marriages simply tear apart under the strain. Personal and/or couples counselling is hugely helpful at this time to help the parents understand and process their own feelings, to relieve the mental pressure and prevent them moving towards depression or conflict. Looking after your own mental and emotional well-being will allow you to be more available both to your partner and your child. It really is a worthwhile, indeed I would say, vital investment.
A relationship where one of you is on the spectrum and the other isn’t can also bring significant challenges. Coming together as a couple, we can explore strategies that could help you and a safe space to talk through any misunderstandings.
Joe Thomas has written this guide Benefits of Employing Individuals with Autism with the main goal being to help promote the values and attributes autistic individuals can bring to a business or organisation, that may not have been initially obvious. There are over 700,000 individuals living in the UK with autism, however, it is estimated that only 15% of those have jobs. For businesses, this is a massively untapped market, that we would like to shine a positive light on.
I’m adding some links here to just a few organisations I have found very helpful for support and help: