If you are on the autistic spectrum, you may find the way that I work helpful to you.
Often, when looking up information regarding working with autistic clients, there is a focus on teaching how to interact in the same way as those considered neurotypical. However, this suggests that those who can do social interaction easily have a good quality of life because of this. This is absolutely not the case for many people. It brings to mind dancing horses. Horses can be taught particularly complicated routines that they can remember and perform beautifully.
However, they are just learned routines and I wouldn’t assume that the horses are enjoying themselves because they can perform them. Similarly, a neurotypical person may have learned to be or be a natural at interacting in a wide variety of situations. He/she may be able to win people over in conversation, flatter, listen attentively and ask questions at just the ‘right’ moment. However, I believe that the benefits of this kind of relating are over-exaggerated. It may help the person receive more invites and to be popular, but to what end? It does not guarantee any depth of relating or a genuine connection with others.
Many people appear confident in social situations, but still experience low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and feeling as though they are on the outside looking in. In other words, whilst it is known that many people on the autistic spectrum camouflage to fit in, this is actually true of most people. Is it, then, a good idea to encourage people to interact socially like everyone else when it is not that rewarding? Should autistic people be coached to socialise in a neurotypical way or would it be more beneficial to ask the question, why does it have to happen in that way for anyone? If there is a silence during a conversation, so what? If I don’t want to do small talk, so what? If I prefer to talk about deep things or nothing, so what? If I want to make myself scarce because chatting is difficult right now, isn’t that ok?
Therefore, whilst many autistic clients have said that they would like to learn to relate like a neurotypical person, that is not the kind of work that I offer. It is my understanding that mental health issues develop for the majority of people as a result of not feeling accepted or good enough in the world as they are. Being on the autistic spectrum, this feeling of non-acceptance will be magnified following difficulties fitting-in at home, at school, in the work-place and in relationships. You may have been camouflaging your autism for years already by mimicking the behaviour of others. This will have been at a huge cost to you emotionally, psychologically and physically. It may have caused you to experience anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts and other difficulties. This may have gone on so long that you feel that the mental health issues are part of the autism, leading to feelings of hopelessness.
Consequently, the work we will do is not about changing you, but more about disentangling the add-ons (anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts …) from your sense of who you are. As you begin to understand and accept yourself more, so you may find it less difficult to connect to others. It is when we are trying to be who we are not that we find it the most difficult to connect. Therefore, the work will be about freeing you up from trying to be like others so that you can accept yourself and consequently relate to others more easily.