Therapy for Neurodiversity/Autism Spectrum Disorder

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Therapy for Neurodiversity/Autism Spectrum
In Grand Rapids, MI and West Michigan At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, MI

Today, more than 5.4 million U.S. adults are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This condition is closely related to neurodiversity — a different way of perceiving and understanding the world. As a result of this difference from the majority of society, people with ASD often find it hard to adapt to societal norms and interact with people, which usually intensifies their condition and even leads to mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, there is therapy focused specifically on neurodiverse individuals. At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, we offer therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder to empower individuals with ASD to embrace their neurodiversity and lead fulfilling lives.

What You Should Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects the way people interact with others, learn, communicate, and behave. People diagnosed with ASD have different types of symptoms and severity levels. For example, some may experience speech difficulties, repetitive behaviors, challenging social skills, nonverbal communication problems, restricted interests, or a few of these symptoms together. 

However, these symptoms are expressed in unique ways for each individual diagnosed with ASD. This means that some people might have advanced verbal skills and manage to function without any support from others, while others may have significant communication barriers and require help.

This variability is the reason why ASD is called a “spectrum” — these people aren’t impaired in any way, their brains just work differently from the majority and therefore, they find it hard to adapt to the world. But unfortunately, as a result of these differences, mental health issues frequently accompany ASD, which makes it crucial for these individuals to seek professional help.

What is Neurodiversity?

In general, every individual experiences and interacts with the world around them in their own unique way. Neurodiversity is a term that describes just that — the natural variation in the human brain and its impact on learning, mood, attention, and other cognitive processes.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, neurodiversity is a “concept that regards individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits as part of normal variation in the human population.”

Since individuals with ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurodevelopmental conditions have an especially distinctive way of perceiving and engaging with the world, the term “neurodiversity” is often used to describe their differences, instead of stigmatizing them.

How to Treat Neurodiversity/ASD

The aim of treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not to “cure” this condition. In fact, there’s no approach currently that would fully reverse autism spectrum disorder. However, there are various treatment options that can effectively manage symptoms and help individuals maximize their abilities.

According to studies, early intervention during the childhood years is the most efficient way to develop social, communication, behavioral, and cognitive skills (e.g., Zwaigenbaum et al., 2015). Ideally, the treatment plan should involve multiple professionals, including psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and special educators. The reason is that neurodiverse individuals require a multifaceted approach and a focus on all aspects of development.

The role of a psychologist is to assess their behavioral and emotional needs and develop interventions that support mental health and social functioning. During therapy, they help individuals with ASD improve interaction skills, reduce anxiety, and enhance their overall emotional well-being.

To Learn More about Neurodivergent Affirming Therapy at Health for Life Counseling, check out our blog here.

Types of Mental Health Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Considering the diversity within the autism spectrum, healthcare professionals use various types of therapies to meet the individual needs of each person.

Here are several common therapies for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most common type of therapy among psychological approaches for autism. During CBT,  a therapist and the individual work together to identify disrupting thought patterns and behaviors and restructure them. This approach is especially helpful for teaching individuals skills to manage anxiety and improve emotional regulation. Studies show that CBT can significantly improve the symptoms of ASD and help individuals overcome social-emotional problems (Want et al., 2021).

  • Social-Relational Approaches

This methodology focuses on improving interpersonal skills so that individuals with ASD can function in social situations effectively. This can involve various different types of therapies.

For example, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) teaches children how to develop an emotional connection with their parents and other family members. Another relationship-based model, “Floor Time,” helps parents and therapists adapt to the interests of the individual to improve their communication skills. Studies show that social skills groups that aid in practicing social skills in a structured environment are effective for children with autism spectrum disorder (Dekker et al., 2018).

  • Occupational Therapy

If a child experiences difficulties controlling their behavior, a therapist might decide to use occupational therapy to help manage these issues. Occupational therapy helps in developing the essential skills for daily living and working, especially sensory integration, motor skills, and adaptive behaviors. This therapy aims to enhance the individual’s independence in performing everyday tasks and activities.

  • Play Therapy

This type of therapy is particularly useful for younger children with ASD. In simple terms, play therapy helps children develop communication skills through the activity they understand best — playing. However, unlike usual playing, this time activities are structured and guided by a therapist to achieve specific therapeutic goals. Research shows the effectiveness of play therapy in reducing behavioral problems in children with ASD (Benseghir, 2023).

  • Speech-Language Therapy

One of the most effective types of therapy for individuals who struggle with communication is speech-language therapy, which focuses on improving verbal skills. During this therapy, a speech-language therapist uses exercises that include describing their feelings and identifying items to improve a child’s speech. Besides, they might also learn communication using signs or gestures.

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is a widely used therapy for children with autism. The main objective of this therapy is to teach individual specific skills to improve expressive and receptive communication effectiveness, as well as social skills. Some of the other areas of focus of ABA include improving hygiene, domestic capabilities, punctuality, fine motor dexterity, and certain behaviors.

What Does Research Say About Psychotherapy for ASD?

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are at increased risk of developing mental health disorders, such as affective and anxiety disorders (in extreme cases, even disorders, psychosis, OCD, and addictive disorders). In fact, studies show that more than 40% of adults with ASD suffer from depression at some point in their lives (Van Heijst et al., 2020). That’s why psychotherapy is an integral part of a treatment plan for individuals with ASD.

Although the research about the effectiveness of psychotherapy for autism is limited, a few studies show that certain therapies are effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in this population.

For example, a 2023 clinical review examined the connections between neurodiversity and psychotherapy for autistic individuals and recommended Neurodiversity-affirming clinical training programs as a mental health intervention (Pantazakos, 2023). Moreover, a 2022 study conducted in England showed that evidence-based psychological therapy for for depression or anxiety can be effective for autistic adults (Bell et al., 2022).

Neurodiversity/ASD Therapists in Grand Rapids, MI

If you or a loved one is facing the complexities of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or neurodiversity, you should know that finding the right support can significantly improve your psychological well-being and quality of life.

At Health for Life Counseling, our team of licensed counselors understands the challenges and strengths that can come with neurodiversity. They are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques specifically designed to support those on the autism spectrum. However, Health for Life Counseling does not offer ABA therapy, Occupational Therapy, or Speech-Language Therapy. For additional resources for Autism services in Kent County, check out Autism Support of Kent County.

So, if you’re looking for a compassionate and supportive environment where every individual’s needs are met, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or online.

And if you’re concerned about financial barriers, note that we accept a wide range of health insurance providers to ensure that our services are accessible to all. Some of our accepted providers include Meritain Health, Cofinity, Optum, and Aetna. You can take a look at the full list of insurance providers we accept on this page.

Therapists For Neurodiversity/Autism Spectrum Disorder

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