Making a Difference through Counseling Adults with Autism

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The Population of Adults with Autism

The continuing rise of the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders in young children will naturally lead to a growing population of adults with these disorders. Adults with autism and related disorders not only face challenges with their conditions, but also deal with difficulties fitting into society. These adults are likely to be unemployed or underemployed, have problems making friends and maintaining social relationships, and experience stress over daily living activities. All of these factors may cause mood and anxiety disorders in adults with autism, negatively affecting already impaired behavior.

Counseling Adults with Autism

Psychotherapists counseling adults with autism can be very successful in helping these individuals cope with secondary disorders and the stresses of daily life. One-on-one counseling can provide adults with autism the information, guidance, and support needed to function more effectively in society. As with any counseling relationship, a therapist must establish trust and develop rapport with a client. The counselor must try to gain the perspective of the client and see life from his viewpoint.

Forming this type of relationship can prove difficult for therapists with clients with autism, since many conversations can be one-sided and revolve around their particular, limited interests. In therapy, a counselor may limit a client’s speaking about his interest to a few minutes. Instead of stifling the topic of interest of a client with a spectrum disorder, though, an effective counselor should use this topic to build a relationship. A counselor should use a client’s favorite topic, whether it is numbers, train and plane schedules, geography, the weather, or any other particular interest to relate to him. Relating to him in this way opens up new opportunities to teach new skills, broaden conversational abilities, and improve motivation.

Once a counselor establishes trust and rapport with a client, other specific objectives can be introduced. One important goal to help adults with autism includes organizing their thinking, which tends to concentrate on minute details rather than big picture concepts. Counseling should include, for example, training him not to bump into others as he walks the same route to the bus stop every day. In counseling adults with autism, other objectives and goals for counselors to work on with clients may include:

  • Monitoring an individual’s thoughts and perceptions.
  • Reevaluating social interactions and better learning how to interpret others’ feelings and behaviors.
  • Understanding the unwritten rules of conduct in various social situations, then monitoring and adapting behavior to other individuals and situations.
  • Recognizing and modifying maladaptive thoughts and information processing to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Using new cognitive and behavioral skills gone unlearned.
  • Compensating for impairments that cannot be changed.
  • Learning strategies to decrease or prevent depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Gaining self-acceptance.

A counselor’s role is to teach clients to recognize and change patterns of thinking and behavior that cause difficulties in daily living, not to change an individual’s personality. Contrary to popular belief, people with autism desire social interactions and are highly motivated to fit into an often confusing world. They should feel free to be themselves while doing so.


Gaus, V. (n.d). Cognitive-behavior therapy for adult Asperger syndrome. Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from

Schopler, E. & Mesibov, G. (1992). High-functioning individuals with autism. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from