While autism has been conventionally deemed a neurological developmental disorder based on eugenic studies, modern science now considers it a different neurological type. Autistic individuals simply have different needs from non-autistics (allistics) based on how their brains are wired, which affects their perspective of the world, how their thoughts are formed, how they react to distress, and how they communicate. While autism has no direct effect on an individual’s mental health, autistic people are often misunderstood and are not well-accommodated from early childhood, which can in turn develop mental health conditions as they grow up. Here’s what you need to know about autistic mental health and how to properly address it.
Traumatic Effects of ABA on Mental Health
As soon as a child is diagnosed as autistic, many parents, unfortunately, rush to Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. While these therapy sessions were conventionally considered necessary to help young autistics navigate the world, recent studies report that ABA is a direct cause of lasting trauma. A whopping 86% of autistic children who undergo behavioral therapy develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which seems to visibly manifest in adulthood.
These therapy sessions, on the surface, claim to reinforce good behavior by rewarding it, and in turn discouraging lash outs and aggression by ignoring the child when they behave as such – similarly to how an individual would train their pet. These sessions, in turn, dehumanize autistic children and condition them to ignore their instincts and become more submissive to adults, which significantly increases their risk of being groomed or abused, seeing as they are taught that saying “no” results in being punished from a very young age.
The autistic community has recently been voicing their concerns in an attempt to prevent abusive behavioral therapy and to teach parents how to raise their autistic kids. If you suspect that your loved one might be autistic, the best place to start is to take an autism test online and to see where they fall on the spectrum. You can then follow it up with a professional diagnosis, especially if they’re suspected to have auditory or sensory processing disorders that need to be accommodated.
Luckily, there are now many online autistic communities that you can join on social media, where autistic adults educate parents and suspected autistics based on their first-hand experience. This grants autistic adults and children alike space where they feel understood and where they can reach out to other autistics for help, some of whom are certified counselors.
Common Mental Health Conditions
Aside from PTSD that results from poor parenting and ABA, autistic people are statistically more prone to develop mental illnesses such as depression. They are also commonly diagnosed with attention disorders including ADHD and ADD. If you are a suspected autistic, you need to find a licensed therapist with experience in treating autistic individuals in particular.
While statistics report that 50–70% of the autistic population is prone to developing mental illnesses, there are few spaces that are well-equipped to accommodate their support needs. Common mental illnesses that autistic people develop also include anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety. That said, recent studies suggest that many autistic people, especially those who are assigned female at birth (AFAB), are misdiagnosed with BPD, seeing as they’re more likely to be conditioned to mask their autistic traits. To avoid this, it’s advised to seek help from autistic counselors who offer a more accurate diagnosis.
Finding a Support System
Autistic individuals who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions need to receive the support they need from their family, friends, and most importantly, from a community that understands them. Many autistic adults and children alike struggle to form friendships because their interests and social expressions are different.
If you are autistic and feel isolated, the best way to address this is to treat underlying health conditions and to manage anxiety, which is often the culprit behind feeling isolated and being unable to maintain friendships. Because autistic people can be non-verbal in stressful situations, they can find another means of communicating with their peers when in distress. Being openly autistic and educating your friends on your boundaries, sensory sensitivities, and any triggers you may have will help them better accommodate your needs and understand you.
Autistic people are commonly misunderstood, seeing as they express their wants and needs differently, and may not always be verbal about being in distress. This can make them prone to developing mental health conditions that must be treated by a professional with experience in treating autistic individuals specifically. If your child was recently diagnosed with autism, avoid behavioral therapy and seek help from autistic counselors or support groups run by autistic adults who can better understand your child and give you first-hand insight on how to address your loved one’s needs.
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