Applied Psychology

The Positive Impact of Psychotherapy in Autism Treatment

Apr 01, 2021
The Positive Impact of Psychotherapy in Autism Treatment

There has been an increase in the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) over the last twenty years. Experts believe that broader diagnostic criteria, increased awareness and changing trends in diagnosing have contributed to the rise, but can’t entirely explain the surge. While ASD cannot be cured or prevented, it has been found that various psychological treatments. These emphasise emotions, self-understanding, and building healthy relationships, which can help with autism treatment in children.

“Psychotherapy can positively impact the life trajectory of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The brain of a child with ASD struggles with communication and social interaction. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts communication and social behaviour. Usually, ASD becomes apparent within the first two years of a child’s life.

It is important to remember that being diagnosed with ASD doesn’t necessarily mean that a child won’t have a full and happy life. Dependent on the severity though, some children may require more significant support and supervision. They are quite likely to have friends, be able to work and enjoy hobbies. It is important to know that ASD is considered a separate condition from intellectual disability although they can and do occur together. The extent of which children with ASD need support depends on where they fall on the spectrum. And therefore how much their ASD hampers everyday activities and their interactions with others.

“Autism is a non-preventable developmental disorder.”

How does Psychological Autism Treatment work?

Where most psychologists use types of talk therapy with their patients, people with ASD often have compromised abilities to use spoken language. Therefore, there are quite specific autism treatment paths:

  1. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA): is a form of behavioural therapy. It involves a carefully structured process wherein individuals are taught skills using rewards to reinforce correct answers or preferred actions.
  2. Family Therapy: Deals with child development. It explores typical and atypical development, questions of nature versus nurture, and related topics. It’s the basis for several well-known treatments for ASD, including ‘Floor-time’ and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).

How does Psychotherapy help children with Autism and their Families

There are a number of well-known researchers and psychologists that have had great success in assisting individuals with ASD and their families. What becomes apparent when talking to experts is that intervention at a family and parent level is an important part of supporting those with autistic children. In addition, positively impacting the life-time abilities of an autistic child.

American psychologist puts forward that psychotherapy works by providing new experiences that engender compensatory brain structures and wiring these into the brain. While it does not reverse neurological damage, Dr Voran proposes that it is “a humane and humanistic approach to a human misfortune”. For her, the focus in psychotherapy sessions with a child with ASD should be on emotions, self-understanding, and aversion to relationships – while monitoring at all times the interaction between the child’s unique neural endowment and their experience.

Psychosocial Support for Families

Dr Voran works directly with parents and the family of children with ASD, as the frustration and suffering, specifically because of not being able to interact and reach a child, can be intense and distressing.

For example, a new-born with ASD has difficulty coordinating their eye movements. Therefore, this infant will battle to make sense of visual input. Resulting in normal parent behaviours easily overwhelming and agitating the new-born. In turn impacting the interaction between the parents and child which causes heightened anxiety, fear, emotional turmoil, confusion and distress. The baby picks up the parent’s response to their child’s difficulties and battling to connect with them. The baby in turn refracts this parental signal through the lens of their own nervous system, producing an idiosyncratic ‘knowledge’ of their parents’ feelings towards them. It is along such complex lines that the baby’s mind develops.

The longer-term impact of this cycle can be a devastating derailment of the child’s emotional and social life. To avoid this, psycho-support of parents and the family of an autistic child is so important to all parties.

“The family of children with ASD should seek psycho-support for themselves.”

Interested in learning more about the different branches of therapy that make up the psychological field? Consider studying a Bachelor of Psychology Degree at SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology). Courses are available on campus and online. Enquire today and take the first step towards having a satisfying career.

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