April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. In honor of this, Courtney Corniuk, AMFT, a Clinical Therapist in our Outpatient Program put together the three A’s of autism: awareness, acceptance and action. This blog is to help minimize the stigma of autism and offer advice to those with a loved one diagnosed with this disorder.
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that can also cause significant social impairment, communication and behavioral challenges. Symptoms can range from quite mild symptoms while others may experience more severe ones. No two people may experience them in the same way. This includes how individuals communicate, interact and behave with others as well as how they can learn, think and problem solve. The CDC estimates about 1 in 54 children has been identified with ASD, which has risen significantly in just 10 years from 2010, when prevalence was estimated to be 1 in 125 children.
An individual with ASD experiences feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and pain just like everyone else. Just because an individual may not express their feelings in the same way, does not mean those feelings aren’t there. Unfortunately, there is still so much stigma surrounding ASD, which can lead to many negative effects.
One of those is misinformation spreading about autism through media outlets, tv/movies, social media and word of mouth conversations. Every individual with autism has different experiences, but most of the time it is stigmatized, and that is how most people understand the diagnosis.
This can be very harmful not only as misinformation about the diagnosis spreads, but also the very real negative effects stigmas have on individuals living with ASD and their families. Some of these negative effects include: peers not wanting to be friends with a child who has autism as they may do something out of the norm or feelings of sadness and/or anxiety.
On the other end, a parent whose child has ASD may be on the receiving end of stares, hostility or being told to “control your child.” According to some researchers, the negative stigma against ASD has kept many families from actually seeking out a diagnosis, from participating in their communities and from enjoying the same qualities of life as their neighbors.
After a diagnosis, it can be difficult for a family to digest all the new information they have been given, cope with the challenges their child is experiencing and live with the common stigmas that are out there. Reaching a place of acceptance can have its challenges, but there can be support along the way. With this, also includes having to adjust and shift expectations for the child that is more congruent to the child’s needs. It is important to identify and appreciate differences within each child.
Everyone has a role within our community, and even if you or someone you know isn’t living with ASD there are still steps you can take to help. It is important to be able to shift toward a place of acceptance and understanding instead of continuing to perpetuate stigmas that have been impacting individuals for decades. In order for that to be done, we need to come from a genuine place of wanting to understand, expressing and showing empathy and appreciating the differences that make each and every one of us unique individuals.
Although there currently isn’t a cure for ASD, there are numerous treatments that have been studied and developed that have shown success in reducing symptoms, improving daily living skills, social skills, cognitive ability and working toward maximizing the child’s ability to function and participate in their community. Every individual with ASD is different and will have different needs and strengths. Therefore, each child’s treatment team will develop a treatment plan that target’s their individual needs.
- Behavioral – The goal would be to work toward reducing restricted interests and repetitive and challenging behaviors through treatment modalities such as Applied Behavioral Analysis. This could include: communication skills development, social skills training, occupational therapy and/or speech therapy.
- Medical – Regular medical check-ups should be a part of the child’s treatment plan, following the care and recommendations of the child’s pediatrician.
- Mental Health – This could include individual, family and parent sessions and would provide support for anyone having difficulty coping with stigmas, the diagnosis, adjusting expectations or what the diagnosis could mean for changes in their family’s life. It can also be common for co-occurring mental health diagnosis to occur, such as anxiety or depression. Therapy can assist the individual with coping skills, insight development, communication skills and self-esteem.
- Academic Support – This includes families working with their child’s school in order to get their child supported with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and/or special education classes in order to provide appropriate academic accommodations in order to best support the child in reaching their potential.
If you are interested in learning more about autism spectrum disorder we have included some resources below:
Courtney Corniuk, AMFT, is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about working with children and families who have experienced trauma and helping them find happiness and joy in life again. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Corniuk worked as a therapist with at-risk youth and juvenile offenders and as an ABA specialist working with children diagnosed with autism. Corniuk earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.