My name is Dora, I have recently joined the Youth trust and was given the wonderful opportunity to start training as a clinician specialising in Autism and Learning Disability. The training I currently undertake enables me to adapt my evidence based clinical work with autistic children and young people to ensure best outcomes. I am very passionate about my work and have an autistic little girl myself.
A high percentage of children and young people experience mental health difficulties at some point during their childhood and being neurodivergent increases the chances of co-occurring mental health difficulties such as low mood and anxiety further. This is partly due to the lack of reasonable adjustments within the environment and the toll it takes on the emotional and mental well-being needing to mask who you really are to fit in. Having to mask to cope in a not autism friendly environment takes a grandiose effort and is exhausting. It is time we ask ourselves what more can we all do to ensure we can all feel comfortable in our environment and we can all be who we are regardless of whether we are neurotypical or neurodivergent? Every single autistic person is unique and rather than drawing blanket conclusions about what we think is needed, asking the person themselves with lived with experience about how to adapt things to suit their unique needs is the best and most person / child centred approach.
Within my clinical work I can reduce the sensory stimuli (noise, lighting, etc) as much as possible or offer sensory experiences during sessions to enhance mental well-being or help with self-regulation or processing. I can adapt the use of language to suit, break things down to manageable chunks, draw on strengths and with the young person’s permission involve parents and wider systems around them to ensure best outcomes.
The environments autistic children and young people access during their week do not always suit, this can create barriers. There is also a need to navigate the social world with intricate rules and norms with an instant requirement to transition, take turns, exchange pleasantries, grasp abstract language, humour and irony. This can understandably lead to an autistic person becoming overwhelmed.
Whilst being neurodivergent in a society created by primarily neurotypical people can be very hard and can lead to many problems, the differences in how the brain works can mean unique strengths, too, which need to be celebrated. I feel very passionate about raising awareness of the beauty of the neurodivergent mind.
Now that spring is on our doorstep – walking through the forest the autistic mind may experience the details of such an environment with a hyperfocus, giving intense pleasure and joy. Imagine if you could take in a deep breath open your eyes and see the tiniest details of the barks of trees around you, instantly categorising them by type, texture, colour. Notice all the wonderful patterns and dance of shadows the sun creates on the ground and take in all the sounds the leaves blowing in the breeze, all the different bits of birdsong, locating them, having the ability to categorise them, hearing the little scratches a shrew makes in the undergrowth or a squirrel climbing up a tree. Feeling the ground change beneath your shoes, smell the wet moss and the freshness of spring with a mind blowing intensity. What a wonderful world and experience, isn’t it? We certainly would not want to be interrupted.
Following a strength-based approach such hyperfocus and attention to detail can be also utilised in every day life and school life, rather than only focusing on presenting problems. With a strength- based approach mental well-being and achievements can increase. Offering therapy at the Youth Trust but also working with wider systems would be the goal to ensure we are all working towards the outcome, which the child or young person wishes to achieve to improve their mental health. Small steps can have a great impact.