Therapeutic Work For
Young People With
Communication Difficulties
Clare Langton
Communication & Interaction Manager and Psychotherapist,
Curriculum Support Faculty, Priestnall School, Stockport
15th May 2012
• My role within Priestnall
• Person Centred Approach
• Difficulties experienced by students on the autistic
Gaining a greater understanding of diagnosis and what it
means to the young person
Why counselling / therapeutic intervention?
Therapeutic relationship
Personal observations and experiences
Students own views and thoughts
Does Every Child STILL Matter?
• Being Healthy
• Staying Safe
• Enjoying and Achieving
• Making a Positive Contribution
• Economic Wellbeing
My Background
• I work as a Psychotherapist as part of my role
within a mainstream secondary school
As an inclusive school I work with students from
a large cross-section of our community,
including young people with autism
My theoretical background is based in Carl
Rogers’ Person Centred, Humanistic approach
first championed in the 1930’s & 40’s
Humanistic Approach
• The Humanistic approach to counselling and
psychotherapy was borne out of the desire of some
practitioners to move away from the limitations of a
more clinical diagnosis, that a person is ‘bad’ or ‘ill’
requiring a ‘prescribed’ therapy, but rather allowing them
to look at the human being and the meaning of their
behaviour and the nature of healthy growth
“as material is given by the client it is the therapists
function to help him recognise the emotions he
(Rogers C. Client Centred Therapy .1951)
Person Centred Approach
• The fundamental philosophy underpinning
Rogers’ theory is that all humans are basically
good and given the right conditions are
motivated to grow and reach their full potential
Rogers believed that no two humans are the
same and personalities are complex
He believed emphasis should focus on the
client’s ability for self-understanding and selfhealing
Autism and Psychotherapy
• Counselling students on the autistic spectrum presents
its own unique set of challenges
Young people on the autistic spectrum may have
average or above average intelligence but also a
significant impairment when it comes to social
understanding and communication
They may also experience significant impairment with
emotional expression, regulation and recognition
They can appear ‘odd’ in their behaviour and sometimes
aloof or selfish, preferring their own company
“ We have to be open to knowing that
person’s experience from his or her
(Jacobson 2003)
• When working with students on the autistic
spectrum personal experience has highlighted
that it is not always easy to understand what
they are thinking
Using my own frame of reference and
experience each case is unique to the individual
• Being different and
not understanding
What does he mean?
Why is he talking to
Why does he want
to know what I did
at the weekend it’s
none of his
Experiences of young people on the
autistic spectrum
• Comments / behaviour can appear selfish or uncaring
• Can be very attached to important people in their lives
• Cannot see why they should acknowledge someone who has no
bearing on their life (from their perspective)
Can be very happy when they please others
Can be very ‘down’ if they disappoint themselves or others
Other people’s behaviour, happiness, disappointments can be a
mystery to them
Can be aware they are ‘odd’ or different
Can be unaware they are ‘odd’ or different
Have very specific areas of skill
Love routine and order
Understanding Diagnosis
There are four common reactions to receiving a
diagnosis of ASC (autistic spectrum condition)
• Reactive depression (Attwood 2006) – perception that
ASC diagnosis means they are defective in some way,
a failure, loser, maybe shouldn’t even be here
• Escape into imagination
• Denial and arrogance – belief that ‘I am always right’
or they are in some way superior to everyone else
• Imitation
What an autistic person
experiences within society
Anger / frustration
Anxiety / stress
Being misunderstood
Confusion / bewilderment
Inability to cope with
unpredictable situations
The above difficulties are all barriers to
communicating and understanding effectively
and further pressures such as:
– Duty / expectation from others
i.e. ‘I shouldn’t have to tell you…’
– Non verbal body language
– Social etiquette
only serve to make social integration even
more difficult and confusing
Working towards integration….
Why Counselling / Therapeutic Intervention?
• Behavioural interventions have been at the forefront of
addressing the deficit in core behavioural issues for
some time with much success
Young people are better able to manage and
participate in mainstream communities
However, emotional issues do not necessarily receive
the same attention and this can lead to anxiety and
depression (Jacobson 2003)
With current focus being on behavioural issues,
emotional issues can go unnoticed or unrecognised
What can Counselling / Therapy Offer?
• A new way of thinking; a new approach
• They are in their own world that they understand, trying to
survive and make sense of a world that is ‘alien’ to them
It is important to be able to help them understand / get to
know this chaotic environment (as they think) through
supportive, understanding of their experiences and
Support to gain insight into thoughts, feelings, intentions of
others as well as themselves
Develop greater maturity
Explore memories of blame, being misunderstood, bullying
and injustices which continue to ‘interfere’ with daily life
Understanding Counselling from an
Autistic Perspective
“The methods of analysis used in traditional
therapy are based on conceptualisation of the
development of typical children but children with
ASC perceive and relate to a very different world”
(Attwood 2007)
Often, when working with young people with ASC they tell
me that they received a diagnosis and been taught lots of
coping strategies. However, no-one has ever sat down
with them and asked them what it is like to be autistic or
why they are always so angry...
Starting Point for Counselling / Therapy
An explanation of what autism is and how it can
impact on them as an individual and also their
impact on others, is a great starting point. It
opens up an avenue for them to explore:
What it is like to be them
Benefits of ASC
Difficulties in having an ASC
How they think and how that differs from others
Expectation from others that they will get over it
Developing a Counselling / Therapeutic
• To be able to work with ASC in a counselling or
therapeutic way you need a thorough understanding
of the nature of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
• Developing a rapport with the young person is
• Identifying hobbies or areas of interest is helpful
• Have a genuine interest in who they are
• It is important for them to understand you are on
‘their team’
Accessing this kind of relationship leads to…
Reduced anxiety
Being more relaxed
Realistic appreciation of
who they are
An ability to acknowledge
strengths and
Greater understanding of
autism and how it forms
who they are – their ‘self’
• Better understanding of how and why
coping strategies work
Increased awareness and acceptance of
who they are and how they ‘fit in’
Greater awareness of how their words and
actions can affect how others think and feel
Can reduce self-doubt and self-criticism,
which can otherwise lead to depression
Much time is spent trying to understand:
• each others perspective on a situation
• others response to their behaviour
• their response to others behaviour
• discovering their interests / skills and using them
to good effect
• their frustrations and anger
• overwhelming feelings and being confused
• how to repair broken relationships
Student Testimonials
• I cannot believe how
angry I used to be.
It is hard to believe that
it was me who drew that
Anger filled my life.
I was always angry but
could never understand
I used to think in terms of weapons of mass destruction to
solve my problems. Things make more sense now.
If people laughed at me I would explode and hit out.
My anger would take over. Now I can put things into
perspective. It doesn’t mean I agree with what’s happening
but I do understand better what’s going on.
My testimonial
• No two days are the same...
• I am privileged to work with such amazing, colourful,
insightful, humorous, interesting young people...
I am constantly in awe of their ability to grow and adapt
in a world that often misunderstands them...
They encourage change and understanding from others
towards them...
Watching them grow and develop their self-esteem has
been one of the most rewarding aspects of my work...
Ultimately, I continue to marvel at what they have taught
and continue to teach me...
Further Reading
• The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony
Attwood, 2007. Jessica Kingsley Publishing
• Aspergergirls, Empowering Females with Asperger
Syndrome – Rudy Simone 2010. Jessica Kingsley
• Counselling People on the Autistic Spectrum, A Practical
Manual – Paxton, K and Estay, A 2007. Jessica Kingsley
• Asperger Syndrome & Psychotherapy, Understanding
Asperger Perspectives – Paula Jacobson 2003. Jessica
Kingsley Publishinng
Further information
Gareth D Morewood
Director of Curriculum Support, Priestnall School
Thank you for listening...
Clare Langton
Communication & Interaction Manager
and Psychotherapist,
Priestnall School, Stockport

Presentation - Gareth Morewood