Q: Hi Mike, I am currently in graduate school to be a counselor. I have had some interaction with clients that are on the spectrum. Were there any activities that completed while in treatment that really helped you, with your social skills? – Courtney
A: Dear Courtney,
Upon learning of my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome when I was in the 3rd grade, my parents enrolled me in a social skills course that was provided by my school system. The course was called Speech Therapy and from grades 3 to 12, I had two different Speech Therapists who taught me how to have reciprocal (back-and-forth) conversations and read non-verbal social cues. Besides interacting with the Speech Therapist and other people in the course, I learned how to socialize through reading a social skills book. That therapy was very beneficial for me, because for several years, I struggled with making eye contact because my mind has difficulty recognizing the difference between making proper eye contact in a conversation and staring, which is considered creepy and uncomfortable.
I have been told I have improved my eye contact since that time; however, due to my other diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, I often get paranoid about the difference between eye contact and staring. From taking Speech Therapy, I know that eye contact is expected and considered impolite not to do and staring is looked at as being inappropriate, which I was chastised several times in my younger years for doing. Since you’re going to be a counselor and have already had some experience with people on the spectrum, my suggestion is to be patient and attempt to be empathetic with your clients, even if they are having a rough time. People on the spectrum benefit from support and attempted empathy, trust me. Good luck to you in your counseling practice and thank you for your question.
Q: I am very excited about this new feature. My son, who is autistic and 11 years old, seems to get very upset when his daily plans change. Do you struggle with this? If so, what helped you? – Amelia
A: Hello Amelia,
I did struggle with my daily routines being changed as a child, as that is a normal symptom of autism. Fortunately, I have been able to cope with that symptom much better as I have gotten older. My advice to you would be to do what my parents did for me, which is to sit your son down and explain to him why the changes are being made and what the new plans will be. It may take a few times of doing this to get him used to it as autistic people, especially children, need certain things to be reiterated to them because of how their minds process information. I hope this helps,
Q: Hi Mike! I work as a nurse in a hospital and often see patients on the autism spectrum come in with pain or in need of surgery. Can you think of anything I can do to make them feel more comfortable, or to help them communicate their needs to me? Thanks for your time! – Eliza
A: Dear Eliza,
This is an excellent question and I appreciate you taking the time to ask my opinion on this subject. From my experiences in hospitals, I have had two surgical procedures and the things that helped me out were not having too many people in the room at once, having a support person in the room with me and having everything explained to me step-by-step prior to the day of the procedure. The day of the procedure, it is important that everything be explained again as it occurs because autistic people are easily overwhelmed by uncertainty, change and surprises and it is comforting for them to know what is happening. I hope this helps,
Q: If you were to help young children with Autism who were struggling socially in ways similar to how you did growing up, what is the most important thing you feel they should know and why? – Colin
A: Dear Colin,
Wow, this is a very insightful question as all autistic people may struggle at times throughout their lives. What helped me was receiving social skills therapy through my grade school years, which I took from grades 3 to 12. It was harder for me to make friends in elementary school and junior high school; however, in elementary school, the school psychologist came into my classroom when I was not present and explained to my classmates what autism is and why I behaved a little “differently.” Young children are uncomfortable with what they do not understand, so to have my disability explained to them gave them the opportunity to ask questions about it. As it turns out, a lot of my classmates were open to interacting with me and were under the impression that I did not want to interact with them. It is a typical misunderstanding between autistic people and non-autistic people. While there is not a direct answer to this question, I am hoping that this advice will help even one autistic child have a better opportunity to be more socially accepted in their formative years. Thanks for the interest,
Q: Hi Mike. I was so excited to see your post about this column! I am currently in Physician Assistant school and we just learned about the autism spectrum. Are there any specific things that your healthcare provider does to make you feel more comfortable at a doctors appointment that you think would be helpful for future healthcare providers to know when they see patients who have autism? – Alysse
A: I appreciate your interest in my column. This is a good question because it pertains to a very specific issue between autism and the medical field, that issue being how comfortable an autistic patient is being treated in a doctor’s office. As far as my experiences are concerned, when my mother took me to doctors’ appointments, she would bring a book for me to read to keep me preoccupied and would also sit away from other parents and children so that I would not be uncomfortable. There are certain people on the spectrum that do not like being touched whatsoever because it makes them uncomfortable, which falls into the category of sensory issues for people with autism, so in those cases, that will be up to the parent(s) and doctor to figure out. Certain people on the spectrum cannot verbalize whatsoever, so in those cases, the doctor would need to find an
alternative measure to communicate with the patient, which I would recommend pictures and/or objects because certain people on the spectrum approach learning and/or communication from a hands-on perspective. I hope this helps and thank you for your interest,