FAMILY THERAPY FOR AUTISM
Helping you get real
We invite you to recover in an environment that is empowering with respect for safety, privacy and the need to feel heard and included.
Some Features of Autism
(From a Neurotypical perspective)
it can look like many things. what’s the context and what is the internal experience?
What Autism Looks Like
Experience relief and empowerment, not just from understanding autism, but from truly understanding your child.
A New Paradigm in Autism Treatment
It’s important to clarify upfront that autism alone does not imply a need for treatment. Autism sometimes occurs with other experiences that require treatment. Some times the “problem” is other people’s challenges in accepting differences outside of their expectations.
We offer support that is client-focused and strengths-based. That is, an approach in which families are treated as experts regarding their families can feel heard, understood and empowered on a course that reflects the characteristics of their family identity. This is not about fitting in and appearing “normal” at the expense of autistics.
Key facets of our approach are: Self-Concept, Self-Determination and Self-Advocacy. These are, of course, interrelated. When autistics experience challenges, its often because the environment does not respond to their needs. In a world that does not accommodate differences, autistics can experience sensory challenges or difficulty connecting especially with non-autistics (sometimes referred to as neurotypicals). In such cases, autistics might not feel grounded or connected which in turn affects their internal sense of Self. No one thrives if they are treated as though they are broken or remain on high alert as a result of sensory overload or cumulative stress.
When the foundation shifts, and that can be imperceptible to others, the key focus of someone who lives on the spectrum is regaining that ground. We help families problem-solve and support each other through an autism affirming lens. Most of the time, we are not focused on why or how the autistic individual might change. We explore whether the environment accommodates and is inclusive with respect to autistic behavior. What are the root causes of behavior and who benefits most from changes?
Why a Family Therapy Approach?
Because from a developmental perspective, coregulation is foundational to self-regulation. We tend to mirror the emotional states of those around us. This reflects a very natural way to restore function and balance to a dysregulated autonomic nervous system. To this end, some of the areas we might explore with families are:
- Shifting from independence as a goal to interdependence-i.e. co-existing in communities of support.
- Developing internal strengths and resources.
- Identifying the function of behavior and patterns of interaction.
- Addressing problem-maintaining patterns.
- Maintaining boundaries/accountability
- Establishing routines around safety and regulation.
- Caregiver self-care.
- Effective communication
- Assistance understanding and managing emotions, thoughts and actions in order to reduce meltdowns.
- Daily living skills
- Developing self-trust and self-compassion.
- Managing expectations
- Understanding autistic catatonia which can develop during adolescence, differs from other catatonia and can manifest in symptoms that vary throughout the day.
The New Paradigm for Autism Treatment
(1) Client-focused: Help an individual succeed based on their strengths; and (2) Shift from mindset focused on behavior. Autism is not behavior.
Working with us-The details
Here are some things that you should know about working with us and our integrated treatment approach:
- Certified Autism Clinical Specialist: Meira has extensive training regarding the specific needs of autistic individuals and therapeutic strategies that address behavioral, social and emotional challenges.
- Ages: We work with families with adolescents aged 10 through 16.
- Medication: We do not provide a diagnosis for autism or prescribe medication.
- Parents/Caregivers Involvement: We emphasize parental involvement and well-being.
- Scope of Services: Our expertise is focused on improving connection/communication, developing strategic skills and reducing stress from a trauma experienced and attachment perspective. Talk to us in a free consult to explore how we might help you with your individual needs and explore the level of supports needed. (Understanding that situational and environmental factors may impact the level of support needed).
- Limitations: We operate in an outpatient setting that is not suitable for clients experiencing crisis. If you or your child is in crisis, you should contact a crisis mobilization team, if needed, or take your child to the ER. You might also need to call 911 if it is an emergency.
- Private Pay: We do not currently accept insurance and might be considered an
out-of-network provider for your insurance. All clients receive invoices for services and a “superbill” on a monthly basis which documents any diagnosis and associated billing code. It is the client’s responsibility to complete and file their insurance forms.
- Legal Proceedings/Evaluations: We do not participate in legal proceedings such as divorce or custody disputes or provide court related services or evaluations for child protective services or any other entity.
- Non-Biological Caregivers Included: We do assist foster parents, adoptive parents, extended family, guardians and other caregivers seeking family therapy.
- Financial Limitations/social justice perspective: We offer a sliding scale in limited cases to existing clients who have participated in at least 2-4 sessions. Also, we are willing to work with families around short term goals or as adjunct therapy supporting other services including support in schools or with IEP development. We offer a 90 minute intensive around a specific goal if your needs are short-term and solution specific. We also offer a free autism webinar in which you can submit live Q & A as another option. This is particularly helpful for families transitioning from a recent diagnosis. We also provide group therapy for families living with autism.
- Privacy for Minors: As a condition of providing services to minors and part of our family therapy approach, we ask that all clients participating in family therapy in which there are minors consent to respecting their privacy and confidentiality regards to the disclosures by minors to the family therapist. Such information will be disclosed at the clinician’s discretion.
- Interpersonal Violence is Contraindicated for Family Therapy: Family Therapy is a type of group psychotherapy that helps family members who are supportive of one another and are willing to work through challenging situations. We do not proceed with family counseling and may make a referral in the event of current interpersonal violence or abuse in the family that undermines the therapeutic intention and treatment plan goals.
We are currently accepting new clients for Family Therapy.
Parent-Assisted Co-Regulation Group
Creating Supportive Environments
Our neurodivergent co-regulation and relating group is unique in that it is designed to help you create a supportive “ecosystem” in the home to allow your child to thrive. It is not enough for children to learn skills in a treatment session. To thrive, they need to be able to generalize the strategies that they learn in the home. This not only helps children implement what they learn, but this allows the focus to shift from any perception that the autistic child is the “problem.”
It is our natural human imperative to interact with others. It’s how we create internalized feelings of safety to operate in the world as fully functioning and competent adults.
Autism need not be a mystery to any parent. Contact us to learn more about our parent-assisted relational groups or click here.
What is ASD, Autism and Asperger Syndrome?
The Reality For Many Families Living With Autism
If you are reading this page, it is likely that you are already familiar with the challenges of autistic people living in a world bent on “managing” their differences. Maybe you’ve experienced interaction with mobile crisis units, fear the future for your child or you are weary from suspensions and/or endless communications from teachers regarding your child’s behavior. Has your child been incorrectly diagnosed as being “oppositional, defiant,” recommended for inpatient services/institutional care, or as having OCD, a personality disorder such BPD or schizoid behavior? Do you continue to grieve for what could have been?
In truth, while co-occurring conditions such as ADHD are not uncommon, many of the barriers autistic individuals and their families face have to do with de-valuing, inaccessible information and other barriers that do not appreciate, much less accept the realities of autism. What if we were to approach autism in an inclusive way through an autism lens? Being misunderstood, incorrectly diagnosed and dismissive would exacerbate the best of us. Sometimes the real tragedy is overlooking what’s going well, strengths and what can be.
Getting the Facts Straight About Autism
Primarily, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects neurological and sensory processing. Off the bat, “ASD” is a term that is used in the world of psychology to reflect the diagnosis designated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Anyone navigating the world of services knows the value of a diagnosis. That said, the term is hardly affirming and it is very controversial. There is a variety of experience that constitutes “autism” and not all people with autism feel experience challenges or consider their neurological wiring disordered or even disabling.
Its manifestations vary, but our focus is on building resilience to help families of autistics and adult autistics who do desire and need services. We can help those newly diagnosed understand autism and manage their anxiety, stress and any disconnection that may seem like a defining part of living with autism. We do so from a perspective that promotes growth, stability and acceptance. We do not seek to change autistic identity.
What does this all mean to families of autistics? It is important not to lose sight of the fact that neurodiversity is still something even professionals are trying to define in terms of origin and treatment. Behavioral interventions may not address the core challenges of a neurodevelopmental differences that exists throughout the lifespan. Autism doesn’t end at k-12. Part of our treatment approach is to shift a good deal of focus on the environment. Is it inclusive? Does it present specific barriers that strain our autonomic state and what we then conclude are “autistic” behaviors? Self-advocacy and self-determination are also key aspects of helping autistic individuals live quality lives pursuing their own ideas of success and meaning.
Viewing the Family in its Entirety
Receiving a diagnosis of autism can generate a lonely feeling on so many levels. We are here to help you move beyond this towards hope, courage and confidence. Foundational to this shift is to improve self-advocacy and empowerment by moving away from a deficit model of autism to one that is strength-based. An autistic person is not one who is missing parts of their humanity. That person may express/perceive their humanity differently. When the whole family is on board with this perspective, they are best able to support themselves and their autistic loved ones.
Resilience is that inner confidence we experience that allows us to take action and respond to challenges from a place of centeredness. Burn-out and other manifestations of family stress that affect siblings, parents and extended family member caregivers can exacerbate the challenges of autistic individuals in a neurotypical world and indeed, increase their distress. Helping autistic individuals shift from being passive recipients of services to active agents in their inclusivity promotes meaningful goals and hope to counter burnout.
"If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing."
W. Edward Denning
Self-Identity, Self-Determination and Self-Advocacy
Strengths-Based, Client Focused Social Model
How autism is conceptualized can make a significant impact on how we interact or relate to those with autism. If viewed as a behavioral disorder, the inclination among treatment providers and by extension various systems, is to eliminate behavior. Instead, our goal is to provide various strategies to better adapt, cope and advocate.
Restoring Hope & Happiness: How Family Therapy Can Help
Our Treatment Approach
We target the chronic nervous system defenses that many have come to associate with the behaviors of autistic individuals. These are the same behaviors we see in traumatized individuals. This is not to say that all those with autism have trauma, but their bodies mirror the defensive states that decrease stress tolerance, increase hypersensitivity and disengage social connection. We are primarily trauma-based using interventions based on PolyVagal Theory and treat using an attachment/developmentally oriented framework. We believe embodied approaches work best to address sensory and nervous system responses. Feeling safe is an embodied experience. Fortunately, there’s an emerging field of clinical interventions that target restoring safety and regulation to our autonomic nervous system.
One such intervention is the Safe and Sound Protocol. In addition to addressing any family dynamics that exacerbate stress and overwhelm, we offer the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) which has demonstrated improved outcomes that include enhanced communication and relational satisfaction by decreasing the anxiety that can result in oppositional behavior or meltdowns. The goal is to reduce the hypersensitivity to support better regulation and social engagement. This is available for all family members.
Our intention is to provide a self-affirming better way that supports development and appreciates the neurological differences among autistic people.
There is no single treatment that works for everyone for the simple reason that autism affects each individual and their family members differently. Indeed, there’s an expression, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. (Dr. Stephen Shore). This is why it’s important to recognize that you are the expert on how autism affects you or your family and that you find the right treatment fit for you. Join our free 90 minute information session for more information.
Key Features of Our Approach
THE PARADIGM SHIFT
Making Inclusivity and Client Focus a Priority
Fortunately, there is currently a paradigm shift in autistic interventions with a move to a more social model (emphasizing inclusivity vs. deficits) that is strengths-based and client-focused. This is the model to which we subscribe.
Much of the anxiety, depression, low motivation and stress seen alongside some cases of autism can be managed through education, practice, self-advocacy, strategies and accommodations. Sometimes it’s about knowing the right question. It also takes acceptance of autism and determination not to dictate neurotypical expectations that focus on making autistic people mask who they are and how they perceive the world.
Strengths-Based & Client Focused Family Therapy
Our expertise is focused on empowerment, attachment and trauma. Underlying this focus is experience working with overwhelm, defenses, dysregulation, skills development and interpersonal dynamics from a bottom-up approach. It is from this perspective that we address autism using an integrative approach that draws from cognitive behavioral therapy, family systems therapy and evidence-based trauma approaches that provide emotional stabilization and increased regulation working directly with the nervous system. That is, everyone’s nervous system in the family: parents, the autistic individual(s), siblings and any included extended family or caregivers.
“Bottom-up” truly reflects how autistic individuals process their interactions in the world and lies at the hard of much of the disconnection among those who are inclined towards processing that is “top down” i.e. from a verbal/cognitive perspective. Key to all of our interventions, including our treatment of autism is shifting from focus on behaviors deemed problematic from a neurotypical perspective to improving quality of life. At the end of the day, this is why people seek therapy.
Beyond Conventional Therapy and Endless Referrals
“Receiving a diagnosis of autism can generate a lonely feeling on so many levels. Many of you are exhausted by the endless stream of costly resources, appointments and dead-ends. We are here to help you move beyond this towards hope, courage and confidence. We firmly believe that when you truly understand your child, you can more fully experience the relief and empowerment that will help you become the support your family needs and be better able to relate and enjoy intimate connection.”
Understanding the World of Autism & Addressing the Misconceptions
We have specific training, personal and professional experience with autism to understand that the learning experience for those on the spectrum requires patience, awareness and training that may differ from conventional practice. We’re not big on labels. We are enamored by human connection and its self-healing power. Here’s some of what we know that makes working with autism unique:
- Certain environmental cues unnoticed by others that are related to sensory input such as light, touch, sound, social interactions, or smell can trigger a fight or flight survival response.
- Reward and Punishment strategies don’t often work or work with rapidly diminishing effect for individuals on the spectrum. This is an area of common frustration among many parents and teachers who resort to common “carrot and stick” approaches to motivate their children. This can be particularly stressful when dealing with teenagers if we don’t understand behaviors and communicate effectively.
- Those on the spectrum often employ masking behaviors that camouflage autistic traits in order to fit in. This can make it hard to treat with conventional approaches and even harder for parents to gauge the capabilities or capacity of their children. This often fuels disconnection, dysregulation and misinterpretation.
- Some of the goals that are set for children with autism are sometimes neurotypically driven and don’t support development. For example, research supports that the language centers of the brain develop more from back and forth than mere exposure to words. Also, focusing on eye contact sometimes runs counter to strengthening connection. We look at the purpose behind extinguishing certain behaviors to see who benefits to consider the purpose of such behavior and can be channeled as a strength.
Autistic Children are Not Deficits, Behaviors or Problems
“Children learn best when we create environments that support self-advocacy. Self-advocacy allows autistic individuals to initiate, execute and control their actions in the world.”
Individual or Family Coaching
Sometimes it’s not easy for individuals to figure out the distinction between coaching and therapy. In truth, our style of therapy includes some degree of coaching. However, coaching differs significantly from therapy in that it does not involve treating a mental health disorder.
How to Determine if you Need Coaching or Therapy
Stress, anxiety and worry, all of which can impact families with parenting challenges, navigating resources or trying to build connection. This doesn’t necessarily imply that anyone, including the autistic child needs therapy.
Learning to hold your children accountable, learning how you might respond to shutdowns or meltdowns, being informed about ways to build motivation without nagging and discovering ways to avoid common mistakes that elevate stress levels and stagnation are just some of the skills one can learn from coaching that don’t involve therapy.
Therapy is appropriate if one is seeking treatment for diagnoses such as anxiety or depression. Family therapy in particular can address trauma and dysfunctional thinking patterns that are not obvious to family members. A free consultation can help you determine the difference if you need help deciding.
Types of Coaching
Coaching may offer affordability and flexibility that is not available with therapy. We offer individual coaching, family or group coaching in addition to single 90 minute session coaching in which you work on one goal and a solution that you can implement. You can always schedule a follow-up session at your convenience. You can also take advantage of a free consult prior to booking this session. Please see our sister site, for additional information on coaching.
We offer a free autism webinar for individuals or families wanting to learn more about treatment options, signs and symptoms of autism and basic strategies for self-care and co-regulation.