PDK Autism Consultants

Janice Plunkett D’Avignon, Ph.D. & Linda Kelly, Ph.D.

Charting the Course for Treating Autism in Children: A Beginner's Guide for Therapists

This book provides treating-therapists with a practical, hands-on guide to working with children diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It focuses on the importance of including the parents and siblings of these children in the treatment planning and provides specific recommendations, tools and suggestions as to how to do just that. As this disability is distinctly different from other mental health disorders, conventional treatment practices cannot be effectively generalized to the work of the therapist treating this population. With tools provided for understanding the unique problems likely to be encountered during the course of therapy, the inexperienced and new-to-this-population therapist will be empowered to proceed more confidently. Additionally, the more experienced therapist will benefit from integrating these new approaches.

Unlike other books, this guide addresses the initial, foundational needs of the treating therapist. This is accomplished through the provision of forms and guidelines for them to use in defining boundaries, determining therapeutic goals and involving parents in the treatment process. This book is also appropriate for graduate level counseling-type courses to assist in the differentiation of treatment for those working with the ASD child.

More so than any other disability, this diagnosis, one that is often undetected until the child has reached early elementary school years, needs to be addressed and treated within the context of the family and community systems. It is a disability characterized by a significant delay in the development of social communicative skills, those skills crucial to experiencing successful interactions with others. The lag in acquisition of these skills results in the unfolding of social scenarios that are for those involved, frustrating, confusing and often, dangerous. When communications break down and unexpected and misunderstood behaviors ensue, tensions and anger heighten, sometimes giving rise to issues of safety and general well-being for those involved.

As the title implies, this book is written as a guide and support for mental health professionals working with children and parents dealing with the multitude of correlates associated with high functioning autism. Unlike other mental health diagnoses, high functioning autism spectrum disorder is not generally emphasized in the traditional training of therapists. Typical approaches, like psychodynamic talk therapies, do not address the needs of this population and can be so personalized and exclusive of social inclusions as to be ineffectual in treatment outcomes.

In all of this, the treating therapist has a crucial role to play. In fact, it is the therapist that clients turn to in times of duress. When times become chaotic the therapist will be expected to intervene. To do this effectively while maintaining professional boundaries requires planning and preparation that is unique to this disability. This book offers concrete tools that can be used in conjunction with therapy to help to more clearly define all of these issues.

Of particular use is our “Parent-Therapist Collaboration Agreement.” This document clearly spells out expectations, commitments and boundaries that need to be operative throughout the course of treatment. By incorporating this agreement into the framework of the therapy, a healthy and productive therapeutic relationship can be sustained, even through the inevitable times of increased emotional need and heightened tensions. To this end, an additional “Child-Therapist Collaboration Agreement” will be provided as well.

These mutually agreed upon documents outline the parameters of the therapeutic relationships between the therapist and parent and therapist and child. Parents will know ahead of time the extent of the role of the therapist in terms of contact and involvement. For example, how often will the therapist be available for school consultation before requiring additional compensation? What is a “true crisis” that would require immediate access to the therapist? Additionally, the use of the collaborative agreement between the therapist and child will help the child to feel more secure in his/​her understanding of the role of the therapist. For example, how often and under what circumstances should parents/​siblings be involved in therapy sessions? How often will the child have access to the therapist outside of scheduled therapy sessions? While therapists are trained to address these aspects of treatment planning in a general way, this disability requires that the therapist embrace a new and different perspective to meet the needs of the ASD client and family effectively.

This is not solely a book reviewing specific treatment strategies for working with children on the Spectrum. It is based on an approach that focuses on the need for clarity and family inclusion in relation to treatment planning. We emphasize working not only with the children and their parents, but also with their siblings. The checklists, descriptives and forms included within the book, can be used as “homework assignments” to be completed and discussed within individual therapy sessions with parents, children and families alike. In our experience, we have come to view family participation and involvement as crucial to the success of the child.

Charting the Course focuses on ASD as a social communicative disorder that can be best understood and treated when behaviors are clearly defined and issues delineated so that effective problem solving techniques can be employed. Through the use of checklists, forms and descriptives, the therapist is provided with a variety of tools to use with parents to do just that. The use of the practical tools provided and interview guidelines are the outstanding features that make this book unique and more practical for use by treating-therapists.


Selected Works

Nonfiction
A therapist's guide to working with high functioning children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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