Trauma can have a serious, long-term impact on anyone who goes through it. Whether it was a one-time traumatic event or complex trauma like abuse or neglect, no one is immune from struggling with the aftermath. However, trauma can affect someone with autism differently. Unfortunately, people with autism are often at a greater risk of experiencing trauma throughout their lives. If you have a child or adult loved one dealing with autism, it’s important to understand how trauma can impact them. The more you understand that impact, the more you can do to help and support them when they need it most.
Let’s take a closer look at how trauma affects someone with autism and how you can help.
Understanding the Symptoms
One of the reasons why it can be difficult to understand trauma in someone with autism is the way they often present their symptoms. When a neurotypical person experiences trauma, they often show signs like irritability, difficulty sleeping, or being easily startled. Someone with autism who has experienced trauma might show their symptoms differently. Children, especially, can become increasingly upset or angry. They might also seem more withdrawn, or their normal behaviors could completely change. It’s also important to note that some kids with autism might not show signs of trauma for weeks—or even months. It’s not fair to assume that because they aren’t showing symptoms right away that the traumatic experience didn’t affect them.
How Trauma Impacts Autism
In addition to some of the signs listed above, research has shown that trauma can also make the symptoms of autism worse and more challenging to live with. When someone with autism experiences trauma or is dealing with the effects of PTSD, they’re more likely to cling to whatever they can for structure and consistency. They might also experience a regression of skills, including communication. Not everyone with autism is verbal, but if your child or someone you know with the condition was able to communicate before and now struggles, it could be a lasting symptom of trauma.
Finally, if an individual with autism experiences trauma at the hands of someone else, they might be at a greater risk of developing other mental health issues, including social anxiety. It’s also more likely that they’ll get overstimulated easily and not do well in social situations or loud environments.
What Can You Do?
It can be hard to see someone you care about with autism struggling with the lingering effects of trauma. Whether it’s your child, another family member, or even a friend, the impact of trauma can be much worse on someone with this condition, and getting them the help they deserve can be even harder. But it’s not impossible. Some people on the autism spectrum might feel the need to mask their ASD traits. However, that becomes harder to do when they experience trauma and they’re constantly fighting to control their symptoms. Unfortunately, that can lead to more stress, anxiety, and tension.
Whether you know someone who is struggling with that or not, one of the best things you can do is encourage them to go to therapy. Autism spectrum therapy can help someone on the spectrum who is dealing with trauma to learn how to cope with what they’ve been through. They’ll learn useful skills that can help them move past their trauma while receiving the support they need.
It’s just as important for you to be a support system, too. You don’t have to understand everything they’re feeling or experiencing to assure them that you’re there for whatever they need. When they’re ready to reach out for help, feel free to contact me to set up an appointment.