Being Autistic and Being a Therapist

In some people’s mind the title of this blog just describes an impossibility, a contradiction, like being tone deaf and being a singer, or like the proverbial fish on a bicycle. I was a bit worried for a while myself back in November 2012 when I (a practising therapist of many years standing) discovered that I was a full-strength, undiluted autistic, and always had been. What worried me, as you may have guessed, was that autistic people supposedly have NO EMPATHY. Whereas therapists are of course famed for their empathy (at least in theory – you could get one on a bad day). So where did that leave me? Well, I resolved this problem the same way that I resolve many of my problems, by educating myself though judicious reading (well, I am autistic). It didn’t take me long to discover that the “autistics have little or no empathy” trope had begun to fall apart once people started to look a bit closer at it – and especially once autistic people started to look a bit closer at it… To

Compulsive Worry

Worry is common and normal – most people worry sometimes. In other words, they anticipate what could go wrong, imagine a range of possible negative scenarios, speculate “What if...” in every possible variety. But most people usually snap out of it after a while (at least until the next time...) Worrying is not pleasant, and most people could probably benefit from doing less of it, but it doesn’t destroy their lives. Other people, however, develop a major worry problem – they become compulsive worriers. Autistic people, in particular, often seem to be vulnerable to this tendency, perhaps for reasons connected both to the innate nature of the autistic mind (intense/rapid thinking, detailed perceptiveness, high pattern-recognition, emotional sensitivity, etc) and to learning experiences that tend to foster a worry-focused attitude to life (extra levels of struggle with mainstream life challenges, being bullied, pressure to conform, confusion & uncertainty, etc). Worry becomes

Autism as Highly Selective Social Learning

"We like to learn & often learn by investigating for ourselves instead of learning from someone else."   Evaleen Whelton, AUsome Training . Many people have attempted to give at least partial answers to questions along the lines of “What is autism?” and “Why are some people autistic?”, and I’d like to make my own attempt here. Of course, I’m assuming that these questions are still somewhat open, rather than fully resolved, otherwise I wouldn’t feel the need to add further thoughts to the debate. There have been a number of theories proposed over the years to try and make more sense of the phenomenon of autism, including the following: •        Theory of Mind Deficit Theory (Baron Cohen)   •        Extreme Male Brain Theory (Baron Cohen) •        Executive Dysfunction Theory (Ozonoff & Russell) •        Weak Central Coherence Theory (Frith) •        Context   Blindness Theory (Vermeulen) •        Intense World Theory (Markram & Markram)

So Lonely

Now no one's knocked upon my door For a thousand years or more   - The Police, So Lonely, 1978   When I think back on my experience of growing up autistic (and unaware of it), the time period that stands out most starkly is my late teens to my late 20s (the late 1970s to the late 1980s), dominated as it was by a bleak, pervasive, and often overwhelming sense of loneliness.   In his 1955 book, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry , American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan describes loneliness as " experience which has been so terrible that it practically baffles clear recall..."  And even now I'm finding my own years of intense loneliness painfully difficult to recall - I've been writing this blog post in short bursts over a period of weeks, with long gaps in between.   It was in the last few years of secondary school that I began to really realise how little I fitted in with other people - how they thought, how they saw the world, what was impor

Autism-Informed Therapy

What is Autism-Informed Therapy? Autism-Informed Therapy is simply therapy that takes autistic neurodivergence into account, and adapts to the particular ways autistic people process the world. Given that therapy is a social/interpersonal setting, particular attention should probably be paid to non-typical ways in which an autistic client may process, and interact with, the social world. Different therapeutic approaches have their own assumptions and norms (both explicit and implicit) about interpersonal interaction, which might not be helpful to neurodivergent clients such as autists. (Whether these norms are necessarily even helpful to all neurotypical clients is another question). Therapists also need to make allowances, up to a point, for different preferences with regard to practical communications outside of sessions (setting up or cancelling appointments etc). Sensory aspects of the therapy setting should also be given consideration, as sensory sensitivity is an issue fo