An Autism Therapist’s Guide to Parenting a Child on the Autism Spectrum

By Tasha Oswald, Ph.D.

As an autism therapist, researcher, and advocate I am passionate about helping high-functioning individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn tools and skills to improve their life. I wanted to tell you a little about why I do what I do. I realized that most autism services were designed for children. Few services helped teens transition to adulthood. Yet, of all the stages of life, the transition to adulthood is one of the hardest for most people. This is even more true for individuals on the autism spectrum. To make matters worse, there are even fewer resources available to neurodivergent individuals once they enter adulthood.

This is where I come in. In recognizing this need, I decided to open an autism therapy clinic in California, Open Doors Therapy, that is dedicated to supporting teens and adults who identify as having Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, or undiagnosed autism traits. Through individual counseling and social skills groups, we support our clients’ emotional development and growth in self-esteem, social skills, and perspective-taking skills. We also offer individual counseling and group therapy for autism parents, as well as family therapy. If you can’t make it to our therapy clinic in Palo Alto, CA we offer online autism therapy in California. As therapists, we are licensed to help individuals who are physically located in the state of California. To support the autism community across the nation, we offer a blog about teens and adults with high-functioning autism and our neurodiversity newsletter that provides great resources for families.

Today, I would like to share with you four blogs I have written that speak to the needs of an autism parent and the challenges they may be facing. My hope is that it will help you gain some insight into parenting your unique and amazing child!

Twice-Exceptional Teens & Adults with Autism: Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

In this blog, I discuss the commonalities, frustrations, and loneliness that many autism parents share. Many autism parents come to counseling at Open Doors Therapy expressing sadness that others don’t seem to understand their unique child and their uneven profile. People with a lack of understanding about neurodiversity often assume that just because their child is gifted in one or several areas, that they excel in all areas of their life. But, this is not the case with many neurodiverse teens and adults who often struggle with their social-emotional development and self-help skills. Unfortunately, this can lead to microaggressions and misplaced comments such as “he should have known better!” or “didn’t you teach them not to…” These comments may cause autism parents to self-isolate and avoid socializing.

Furthermore, we recognize the struggles that autism parents often face at home. We realize that many autism parents struggle to motivate their children to complete certain tasks or do things independently. This is made even more difficult by the challenges they face teasing out whether their child’s undesirable behavior is caused by a skill-deficit, avoidance or manipulative behavior.

How we help autism parents at my autism therapy clinic in California.

We believe that “Parents of twice-exceptional teens need their own support! They benefit from meeting other parents who have children with similar uneven behavioral and cognitive profiles and are facing similar struggles.” So, our team of autism therapists offers individual counseling and coaching opportunities. During these sessions, we work with autism parents to help them cope with their anxiety and loneliness. We also teach them tools to encourage independence and self-advocacy. We also run two online autism parent support groups. These are designed to connect autism parents with others who are also parenting a twice-exceptional or twice-gifted child.

Check out the blog here: https://opendoorstherapy.com/twice-exceptional-teens-adults-autism-parenting-twice-exceptional-teen-autism/

 

Autism Expert Insights: Parenting Your Child with Autism During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In this two-part blog series, I discuss the unique challenges parents are facing as they navigate parenting an autistic child or teen during COVID-19. I wrote this series after consulting with a group of other autism experts who contributed great thoughts and tips.

This blog series discusses a lot of the common challenges many autism parents are facing while schools are/were closed and they are doing distance or hybrid learning at home. These challenges include:

Being both parent and teacher

• Chores and responsibilities

• The war over screen-time

• Parent and child anxiety

• Your child’s irritability or angry outbursts

• Helping your child cope with sensory overload

How to cope with the life-altering changes caused by COVID-19 when you’re parenting a child on the autism spectrum:

Our talented team of experts in neurodiversity offers several useful tips for both autism parents and neurodiverse teens or young adults who are struggling to cope with social distancing, distance or hybrid learning, and the changes they’re experiencing in their lives.

We know that autism parents need and deserve support too. So, we began offering a free online autism parent support group to help parents of twice-exceptional children navigate these challenges and more. It’s our sincerest hope that this group will be a place of refuge for struggling autism parents as well as a place where they can find their tribe of parents dealing with similar issues.

Check out both blogs!

https://opendoorstherapy.com/part-1-of-autism-expert-insights-what-is-it-like-parenting-your-child-with-autism-during-covid-19/

https://opendoorstherapy.com/part-2-of-autism-expert-insights-tips-to-support-you-in-parenting-your-child-with-autism-during-covid-19/

Loneliness and Autism: Autistic Teens

Many if not all of my neurodiverse clients struggle with loneliness and social-anxiety. This typically begins in the fourth or fifth grade when pre-teens with autism begin to notice their differences and they begin to struggle to keep up with the complexities of social nuances and conversation. When puberty hits, these feelings are often exacerbated because an autistic pre-teen or teenager often doesn’t share the same interests as their peers. They are not interested in talking about things like gossip, dating, and pop culture. Often comparing themselves to their former friends makes matters worse and leads to other mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.

Your autistic child’s loneliness is hard on you as their parent

We recognize that as their parent, you want them to succeed and fit in. It is hard to watch them struggle. However, this may cause you to overcorrect and step-in when your child is capable of advocating for their own needs. This may also cause you to push your child and put pressure of them to do things that they are not emotionally ready for. In my many years of experience as an autism therapist, I often see a parent’s over-eager behavior cause their child to doubt their self-worth and make socialization even harder.

In this blog, I offer some suggestions on ways autism parents can help their autistic child cope with loneliness and foster positive self-esteem. These skills will help your child find self-acceptance and self-compassion which will help them cope with social anxiety, depression, and combat loneliness.

Check out this blog here: https://opendoorstherapy.com/loneliness-autism-autistic-teens/

 

College Students: Building a Social Network

One of my favorite groups to work with at my autism therapy clinic in Palo Alto is neurodiverse college students and young adults with autism who are transitioning to college. That’s why I chose to do a three-part blog series on common challenges and resources for college students with ASD.

Many of my clients report that the first three weeks of college life was the hardest for them. I would argue that this is true for most college freshmen, but it’s especially difficult when you have autism. Making friends when you’re on the spectrum is hard, especially if you don’t have a concrete set of social skills to draw from. Additionally, changes such as a lack of structure, homesickness, and not being able to rely on your parents as advocates can be overwhelming for many autistic college students.

In this blog, I offer suggestions on how to remedy these issues and build a social network. This includes things like joining organizations or activities that align with your interests, creating or joining study groups, and more.

Additionally, the therapy team at Open Doors Therapy offers a social skills group that is just for neurodiverse college students. And, we offer a summer intensive for incoming college freshmen with autism.

Check out my blog here:

https://opendoorstherapy.com/college-student-autism-aspergers-social-skills/

 

Interested in Autism Therapy in California?

If you live in California and are interested in receiving autism therapy services, our team would love to speak with you and discuss your options for autism therapy in Palo Alto or online autism therapy in California. Reach out and schedule your free consultation today!

Learn more about individual autism therapy: https://opendoorstherapy.com/individual-counseling/ 

Learn more about parent coaching and counseling: https://opendoorstherapy.com/parent-counseling/

Learn more about our autism social skills groups: https://opendoorstherapy.com/parent-counseling/

Learn more about online autism therapy in California: https://opendoorstherapy.com/online-therapy-california-counseling-telehealth-autism/

Learn more about our online parent support group: https://opendoorstherapy.com/autism-parent-support-group-online/

 

Open Doors Therapy’s Approach to Helping Individuals with Autism and Their Families

As autism specialists, we know social interactions can be stressful and draining for our clients with autism. We understand the loneliness and pain that comes from feeling different. We provide support and strategies to help our neurodiverse teen and adult clients better navigate the social world and anxiety.

We know deep down our clients want to make friends and feel like they belong. Through individual or group counseling, we provide our teen and adult clients with high-functioning autism the emotional support, strategies, and practice they need to develop and maintain positive relationships and achieve their goals.

Through our online counseling services, clients can access support from the comfort of home.

For clients who are interested in a social skills group, we initially do an intake appointment. During this time we get to know them so we can match them with a group made up of their peers who match their skill set and their interests. We do this specifically to help them feel comfortable during group therapy. This fosters a sense of connection and comradery and creates the optimal opportunity for growth and self-improvement.

Support for Autism Parents

Parenting a teen or adult with high-functioning autism is profoundly complex and challenging. These parents may often worry about their neurodiverse child’s future or walk on eggshells trying not to upset their child. We understand their deep longing to see their child succeed and be an independent adult. Parents of neurodiverse children often feel isolated, misunderstood, and criticized by others around their parenting. We feel such deep compassion for parents of neurodiverse children. We see that they are working tirelessly to support their neurodivergent child, but who supports the parents?

At Open Doors Therapy, we offer parent counseling, parent support groups, and family therapy.

Our parent counseling sessions offer a safe space for parents to explore their concerns and develop skills to reduce conflict and increase positive connection with their child. Our parent support groups provide both education and a supportive environment. We find that parents feel most supported and validated when amongst other parents who really can understand what they’re going through. For this reason, we carefully match parents together who have children at a similar stage of life and who are facing similar challenges.

Through family therapy, we help families enhance positive interactions and connection. Communication can be difficult for households that have a high-functioning autistic family member. Conversations may seem to turn into arguments. Families may feel stuck or uncertain about how to support their family member with autism. Open Doors Therapy works as a resource for the entire family to help foster effective communication, and bring balance and calm to families. 

We know the road to your child’s success may be marked with challenges, at home, and at school. But, with compassionate and skillful intervention and help from caring parents, such as yourself, we can help teens and young adults with autism achieve their social-emotional and mental health goals!

About the Author

Dr. Tasha Oswald is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, CA. She is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy which serves high-functioning teens and adults with ASD and their families. They provide a variety of autism therapy services including individual autism therapy, autism, parent coaching and counseling, autism family therapy, trauma-informed care for autistic individuals, social skills groups, autism parent support groups, and online autism therapy.

 

Dr. Oswald is passionate about offering social skills groups for neurodiverse teens and adults. Her innovative approach begins by identifying their individual strengths, interests, and areas of concern to place them in a group of their peers who share similar traits and challenges. This fosters a sense of connection and helps her clients open up and be more receptive to the power of a group. She believes that autism group therapy has the power to transform lives.

 

Dr. Oswald has almost two decades’ worth of experience working with neurodiverse individuals. She got her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon. Then, she worked for the UC Davis MIND Institute, which is a world-renowned research and treatment center for neurodevelopmental disabilities.

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