Eoin Stephens - Counsellor/Psychotherapist
What is Autism-Informed Therapy?
Autism-Informed Therapy (or Counselling/Psychotherapy) is simply therapy that sees Autistic Neurodivergence positively rather than just as a problem, and adapts therapeutic approaches & goals to the particular ways autistic people process the world, especially the social world.
While the primary characteristics of autistic neurodivergence are still very much under discussion, an autism-informed practitioner should have in mind characteristics along the following lines:
- Possible extremes of sensory sensitivity (in either direction).
- Heightened awareness of aspects of their environment, and intense interest in exploring some of these aspects (and discussing them with others), especially non-social aspects (i.e. less interested in gossip, etc).
- Focus on communication as accurate transfer of useful information (i.e. less interested in small talk etc).
- Detailed memory for areas of interest, along with strong systemising & pattern-seeking tendencies & abilities.
- More motivated by truth, consistency, fairness, rules that make sense, etc, than by social conformity.
"Autistic: Just one of the many fascinating variations on the theme Human."
Autism-Informed practitioners also acknowledge the reality that the main problems most autistic clients bring to therapy (Anxiety, Depression, Low Self-Esteem, Addictions, Complex PTSD etc) are the result of having had to adjust in unhealthy ways to a largely unaccepting world.
From the point of view of therapeutic approaches, I would suggest that AIT needs to be:
- Person-Centred in order to convey proper appreciation of the client's individual perspective
- Motivation-Focused in order to ensure that therapy tracks the personal values & life goals of the client
- Strengths-Focused to counteract the invalidation & disempowerment experienced by many autistic people
- Trauma-Informed given that many adult autistic clients have had multiple traumatic experiences as they tried to survive in a largely unaccepting world.
A framework of Evolutionary Theory can also be helpful, as it assumes that diversity in populations is the norm, not the exception (see Irish Centre for Evolutionary Psychology & Therapy website).
Building on these foundations, elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can often be useful and relevant, as this approach tends to be:
- issue-focused, skill-focused, & outcome-focused
- structured, educational, & experimental
- explicit in its rationale for any therapeutic work that is suggested
- tried and tested in relation to many of the issues autistic adults struggle with, e.g. anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, etc
Elements of "third generation" CBT approaches, such as Compassion-Focused Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Schema Therapy, etc, can also be helpful.
See blog post on AIT here
Why is it needed?
As more children are being identified as autistic, more adults are also realising that being “on the spectrum” may make a lot of sense of their life experiences and struggles. Whether they come to therapy to get help in processing this realisation, or whether they are already in therapy for secondary issues such as Social Anxiety, Low Self-Esteem, Addictions, OCD, etc, allowance must be made for their autistic personality & thinking.
(see also eoinstephens.com)
Eoin Stephens MA, MIACP, MACI
is a therapist & trainer who has worked in the areas of Counselling/Psychotherapy, Mental Health, & Disability for over 30 years, specialising in an individualised & integrative Case Formulation approach to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
He is particularly known for his work in the field of Behavioural Addictions, and was awarded the IACP Carl Berkeley Memorial Award in 2010.
Eoin is currently focusing his attention on understanding the problems faced by autistic adults, & their specific therapeutic needs. He is himself autistic, having made the discovery in late adulthood.