child's hand resting in parents hand

Tips for Communicating With Your Neurodivergent Child

Each of us learns, thinks, and processes differently. As a result, we all display different kinds of behavior. If your child is neurodivergent, it’s not a pejorative or a negative label. Rather, it’s a term that encompasses a wide range of neurodiverse conditions. About one in five children are neurodivergent which means they’ve been diagnosed with a condition like an anxiety disorder, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette’s syndrome, and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Such disorders impact brain development and, for example, can affect how they communicate. This can present a challenge for parents of a neurodivergent child. But it’s also an opportunity to find new ways to connect!

Situations Parents of Neurodivergent Children Regularly Face

Your child will likely behave in a way that is heavily guided by their emotions. Quite often, this manifests in them reacting to a situation and then having a difficult time calming down. Parents quickly learn the importance of:

  • Practicing daily self-care — and self-control
  • Adjusting their expectations
  • Adjusting their communication style

At times, you and your child will be operating on different wavelengths but will compassion and self-compassion, you both can make the adaptations necessary to truly connect.

5 Tips for Communicating With Your Neurodivergent Child

The list below contains suggestions and blueprints. Only you understand the exact dynamic in your situation so, of course, take what is useful and adjust it to your needs.

1. Become an Expert For Your Child

Self-education can bring you to a place of knowledge about your child’s disorder. Experience will guide you to apply that knowledge in a specific way. No website or textbook can address your child in particular but the information you gather can support you as you seek out the best approaches.

child's hand resting in parents hand2. Include Your Child As Much As Possible

This plays out in a few ways. Firstly, your child will rely on you to explain their differences to them. They need guidance as to why they feel as they do. In addition, you can be an important voice when it comes to your child dealing with a world that can be cruel at times.

Also, include your kid in your conversations. Even if they are rarely communicative, a neurodivergent child can still be interested in what’s being discussed. Invite them to participate and make it clear that they are welcome.

3. Include Others, Too

Encourage the people in your child’s life to be present with them. From family members to teachers to neighbors and beyond — all of them can play a role in your child’s communication style.

4. Give Them Room to Be Who They Are

It’s tempting to force a neurodivergent to conform to communication norms. On the surface, it can enable them to connect with their peers. But you also don’t want them to feel weird or abnormal if they prefer a different way.

5. Be Their Safe Space in Challenging Situations

It is far more likely for a neurodivergent child to be strongly impacted by external stimuli, e.g. textures, sounds, lights, etc. When you know you’ll be with your child in a challenging environment, plan in advance to make it simple for them to find relief. Even if it means leaving, come up with signals so you can communicate amidst the crisis.

Take Care of Yourself

To be the best possible parent for a neurodivergent child, you’ll need to safeguard your own well-being. Your child will certainly have their own therapist but that option is also available for you. If you need a space to talk about your challenges, frustration, concerns, and more, we urge you to reach out o learn more about autism or child or teen counseling.

asian woman resting head on hands who looks sad

How To Get Tested For Autism If You Are An Adult

Autism awareness has never been higher. As a result, childhood diagnoses have increased exponentially. But what about those folks who grew up before this trend? What if today’s adults feel they are experiencing symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Tests for ASD are generally designed for children but a qualified healthcare professional can perform an assessment on an adult.

This is a challenging process but in the hands of an experienced practitioner, it has been successful. While adult tests for ASD are in the works, for now, a major component of this process is self-reporting. Let’s start our discussion there.

What Red Flags Do You Regularly Notice?

These signs generally fall into the two broad categories listed below.

Social Interactions and Communication

  • You misread the tone of a conversation leading you to make unusual word choices or speak too loudly
  • When invited to a social event, you’re unable to discern what to wear or how to act
  • You over-focus on topics that interest you but get bored and distracted in other conversations
  • It feels tricky to figure out when to speak up, ask questions, remain silent, etc.
  • Other people’s body language or sarcasm goes over your head
  • If a scheduled plan changes, you experience a sense of panic

Sensory/Behavioral Symptoms That Appear to Be “Quirks”

  • When you get upset, it can turn into a meltdown
  • To calm yourself, you engage in movements or sounds that appear socially awkward or inappropriate
  • Also to calm yourself, you may require physical pressure
  • You’re sensitive to sensory input like sound, light, smell, taste, and touch

Your awareness of these red flags could merit you trying out an ASD self-test.

asian woman resting head on hands who looks sadASD Self-Screening For Adults

Common, widely-used self-tests are just a click away. Three assessments you might want to look up are:

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10): A popular choice due to it being only 10 questions long
  • Adult Repetitive Behaviors Questionnaire-2 (RBQ-2A): A 20-item questionnaire commonly accepted as a highly effective screening tool for autism
  • Adult Social Behavior Questionnaire (ASBQ): This one has 44 questions and can be especially useful when looking for mild ASD

These questionnaires cannot accurately diagnose anyone but they can go a long way in helping an adult decide if they should seek out an adult autism evaluation.

Getting Tested For Autism If You Are An Adult

The most accurate diagnosis for adults with ASD is one performed by a mental health professional. You will need to find someone with a very particular set of skills. They should be quite familiar with the process of diagnosing ASD. In addition, it would be ideal if you could find someone with solid experience working with adults with autism.

Such an examination will involve factors like:

  • All of the above: Your personal observations are very much taken into account. This is combined with any self-screening questionnaires you may have completed.
  • Clinical observations: The professional administering the evaluation will have many questions for you. They’ll also spend a good amount of time observing all aspects of your behavior, communication, coping mechanisms, and more.

If you end up being diagnosed with adult ASD, the interventions are not as extensive as they are for children. But support is available.

Why Get Tested?

If there are no highly reliable adult tests and you’ve made this far on your own, is it worth getting tested? One big advantage of doing so is peace of mind. You may have times when you feel like an outsider. It can be quite a relief to have a clinical explanation for these moments. Thus, if the above information resonates with you, I’d strongly suggest you reach out to learn more about ASD.

Sam Swafford, MS, LPCC sam.swafford@affinitypsych.com

Sam is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who works with adolescents, young adults, adults, and those who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. They specialize in trauma work and those with dissociative abilities. Sam aims to create a safe and comfortable space for all.

What Is High-Functioning Autism?

There’s a very good reason why the umbrella term is Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is a condition that appears on a spectrum. Therefore, while “high-functioning autism” is not an official diagnosis, it is a helpful way to differentiate between points on that spectrum. In turn, this ability is a major part of getting people the support they need.

You see, someone with high-functioning autism may be casually identified as awkward, shy, or perhaps eccentric. Identifying that they are on the autism spectrum shifts the conversation. They are now able to get treatment and guidance that empowers them to live a more enriching life.

5 Signs of High-Functioning Autism

1. Fixation

This is one of the better-known signs. Someone with high-functioning autism may, for example:

  • Dedicate themselves to learning about a particular topic
  • Listen to the same music over and over
  • Focus on the same subjects when having conversations

These fixations have the potential to be a positive, negative, or relatively benign presence in their life. Hence, working with a therapist can be a useful way to recognize how they affect you.

2. Routines, Habits, and a Dislike of Change

A fixation-oriented personality can be very ritualistic. They develop a routine and will not change it unless forced. Anything that throws off their rhythms can be a major source of stress, e.g.

  • A child may become disconcerted if school is unexpectedly canceled
  • An adult may only wear one kind of shirt or pants
  • Habits like brushing one’s teeth or tying one’s shoes must be performed in a specific way 

It’s not that a person with high-functioning autism is incapable of change but they will go to extremes to avoid it. Their reaction to change can also be quite volatile. This reaction highlights another common symptom: emotional sensitivity and dis-regulation.

3. Social Challenges

Awkward social interactions are frequently the first clue that someone is neuro-divergent. In young children, it might manifest in an unwillingness to share toys or play with others. Later, in school or at work, you might have a very small social circle and eschew working in a group. This symptom can develop into an extreme focus on one’s self. Rather than being shrugged off as “quirkiness,” such behavior can be addressed and managed through counseling.

4. Sensory Issues

All across the autistic spectrum, this is common. Individuals struggle with certain smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. As a result, they can experience sensory challenges in everyday actions and settings like:

  • Food that is too crunchy, too mushy, too spicy, etc.
  • Noisy and crowded public places
  • Bright lights and flashing lights
  • Situations that involve smoke or strong smells
  • Clothes that feel tight or itchy

Everyone has their preferences when it comes to sensory input. For an individual with high-functioning autism, such a situation can be the cause of severe distress and discomfort.

5. Toe Walking

Unusual movement patterns are not unusual for someone with high-functioning autism. Toe walking is a particularly common and obvious example. They may choose this gait to avoid the sensation of their foot touching the ground or floor. But left unaddressed, this pattern can cause a wide array of other physical concerns from muscular problems to skin issues.

How to Learn More

There is no clear-cut cause for high-functioning autism and no specific test you can take to find it. What’s needed is an assessment with an experienced practitioner. If any of the above symptoms rang a bell for you, it could be wise to find out more. As mentioned above, what is dismissed as quirkiness may actually be a disorder that can be managed.

People can live full and fulfilling lives with high-functioning autism. Working with a therapist is a giant first step in that direction. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about Therapy for Autistic Adults.

Autistic & Considering Therapy? 5 Reasons That’s a Good Idea

Life on the autistic spectrum can provide you with gifts and challenges. How ideal would it be if you could maximize your ability to appreciate the gifts? As you’re about to learn, therapy can be a giant step in that direction for you.

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. But they don’t need an “expert” to tell them they’re having trouble fitting in. During childhood, someone with relatively mild ASD symptoms can find ways to navigate social interactions. However, this process is a whole lot more tricky as an adult. So, for starters, let’s review some of the reasons why you may be considering therapy.

A Few Ways Being Autistic Can Be a Challenge

Nuance and Context

Adult human interactions, in general, can feel like a minefield. We’ve created so many unwritten rules and social norms that can, in turn, vary due to culture, geography, etc. Then we have jokes, inside jokes, metaphors, and sarcasm. All of this can make someone with ASD feel left out and confused.

Non-Verbal Communication

Body language, vocal inflections, and facial expressions are just some of the ways we can speak volumes without speaking a word. ASD can make “reading between the lines” particularly tough.

Spontaneity and Lack of Structure

Maybe you prefer structure. You may thrive with schedules and routines. Adult life can be chaotic and impromptu and thus, exasperating.

How much would it help to have a skilled professional guide you through the mazes and obstacles?

5 Reasons Why Therapy is a Good Idea For People With Autism Spectrum Disorder

1. Understanding Your Capabilities, Needs, and Viewpoints

Autism does not define you. Like everyone else, you are a complex being with an infinite amount of uniqueness. Working with a therapist can help you better understand who you are — to yourself and to the world at large.

2. Gaining Confidence

Through trial and error — and a fair amount of role play — you and your counselor can work toward reducing self-doubt. As you grasp more about your individual needs, you can better negotiate a world that often doesn’t seem accommodating. Let’s say you’re someone with high sensitivity to sensory input. Your sessions can support your efforts to manage environments that feel challenging. This can be a major confidence boost!

3. Building Healthier Relationships

Each person you meet has her or his own emotional inner life. This is often shaped by experiences they have lived through. Connecting with others requires us to develop an intuition for understanding where people are coming from. Right now, this may feel impossible. But it can be developed to a variety of degrees. As you do this work, you increase your ability to build lasting connections with others.

4. Interacting More Comfortably With Strangers

If you get a little shy or tongue-tied around strangers, you’re not alone. With or without ASD, this can be one’s of life’s toughest situations. Your therapist will be a stranger — at first. Your sessions are the ideal setting to get more comfortable with the whole “getting to know you” process.

5. Unpacking Negative Thought Patterns

Living with ASD can lead you to develop some unhealthy beliefs about yourself. These beliefs can translate into behaviors that work against you. An experienced therapist can assist you in learning the skills you need to replace both the beliefs and the behaviors.

I’ll Bet You Have Questions

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a reason to shy away from therapy. On the contrary, therapy can be essential. What I’ve stated above is only an introduction. If you want to ask more and learn more, I’m here. I’d love to connect with you for a free and confidential consultation.