Is Trauma At The Core Of Your Or Your Child’s Behaviors?
As the parent of an autistic or otherwise neurodiverse child, you may be concerned that your child’s interactions and surroundings place additional stress on them. If they have difficulty adjusting to new environments or are constantly told to manage their behaviors, they may have internalized the stress in a way that creates further disruption.
For instance, do you notice that your child becomes particularly anxious in certain situations? Have you ever observed them disassociating or willfully detaching from their emotions? Or do they struggle with rapid mood swings, memory issues, and intense fear?
While many neurodivergent issues—especially those related to autism, ADHD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—are characterized by surface-level behaviors or developmental delays, the truth is that your child may also have stored trauma that is preventing them from functioning to the best of their ability. All of us encounter trauma in our lives, which has the potential to compromise our self-regulation skills and ability to feel safe in everyday interactions. Yet, in autistic and other neurodivergent populations, there are higher rates of trauma, and trauma is experienced differently among these individuals.
You may have noticed your child having a hard time trusting others. Maybe they express fears of abandonment or being injured. If they are regularly being corrected, yelled at, or restrained, they will likely develop the idea that their surroundings aren’t safe or nurturing. And it’s even possible that you’re aware of physical, sexual, or mental abuse that they have sustained—which is unfortunately very common among this population.
Alternatively, as a neurodivergent adult, you could be now realizing that your symptoms may be better understood from an unresolved trauma perspective resulting from navigating living in a world where neurotypical standards are the norm. The clinicians at Spectrum Connections Therapy offer neurodiversity-affirming and trauma-informed care to help you heal from past hurt, get unstuck and move forward.
Symptoms Of PTSD And Complex Trauma—And The Difference Between The Two
Within neurodivergent and neurotypical communities alike, there are some common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma. The main difference between PTSD and complex trauma is typically the traumatic event itself—in cases of PTSD, there is usually one event (or a series of events within a short, contained period of time). By contrast, complex trauma is characterized by events that repeat over an extended time period (which is often the case in instances of abuse or neglect).
PTSD and complex trauma share certain symptoms, including hypervigilance, anxiety, isolation, sleep issues, and self-destructive behaviors. However, because complex trauma is more complicated, some symptoms may be overlooked as not being directly related to trauma. For example, those struggling with complex trauma may develop a persistently negative view of themselves and others, experience dissociative symptoms (including emotional detachment), and have a fixed preoccupation with the people, places, or things associated with the trauma.
Such symptoms can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to manage, but treatment for PTSD and complex trauma exists. At Spectrum Connections Therapy, we specialize in identifying and treating trauma in neurodivergent populations.
Trauma And Neurodivergence
Due to limited social skills, verbal skills, or mobility, those with physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities are more likely to be taken advantage of. As a result, these individuals may not fully understand a traumatic experience, and they might have a hard time verbalizing what happened or characterizing an event as traumatic. Unfortunately, these limitations may prevent them from recognizing or reporting instances of abuse.
The harsh reality is that neurodivergent populations are more susceptible to trauma. A 1996 study found that “individuals with disabilities are four times as likely to be victims of crimes as non-disabled individuals.” Similar studies have demonstrated that instances of abuse are disproportionately high among autistic populations—particularly for those within the disability service system.
Even if abuse isn’t factored in, it’s important to keep in mind that neurodivergent individuals are constantly expected to adhere to neurotypical standards, which can present an array of triggers. As put by the Traumatic Stress Institute, individuals with disabilities “face immense stigma and marginalization by society at large, which may be traumatic in itself or make traumatic experiences worse.”
When treating autistic and otherwise neurodivergent clients, behaviors should not always be viewed as only and directly correlated to their disability. Many symptoms and behaviors can be attributed to unprocessed trauma. Therefore, it’s essential for neurodivergent individuals to receive mental health support from trauma-informed clinicians.
The therapists at Spectrum Connections Therapy are both neurodiverse-affirming and trauma-informed. Together, we can help you or your child cope with painful experiences and heal.
Therapy Is An Effective Way To Manage Symptoms Of PTSD And Heal From Trauma
Though many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), attention deficits, and learning disabilities are often funneled into behavioral treatments or district- based programs, most clinicians providing developmental support are not necessarily trauma-informed. Unfortunately, these approaches often don’t factor in how vital safety is in the client-clinician relationship, and they put neurodivergent populations at further risk of re-traumatization.
Our practice is committed to maintaining the most up-to-date training in trauma studies—especially regarding neurodivergence. And because our practice owner, Dr. G, is the parent of an autistic child, she understands the essential need for trauma treatment that’s oriented around trust and safety. With our background in clinical psychology, family systems, and behavioral methods, we provide trauma therapy that seeks to address symptoms and behaviors in a deep, and holistic way.
Counseling begins with a general intake that will help us understand you and your family better. Once we have a sense of presenting PTSD symptoms and goals for treatment, we can begin to identify which behaviors are developmentally motivated and which ones are related to trauma.
When addressing trauma specifically, we use a combination of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Trauma-Focused Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Trauma-Focused CBT and ACT helps with stress management, mindfulness, acceptance, and cognitive reframing (from negative thoughts to positive ones). EMDR is a highly effective, evidence-based, gentle therapy that targets trauma stored in the body. When used in tandem, these counseling methods can significantly reduce emotional distress, anxiety, and other symptoms related to PTSD and complex trauma.
Living with trauma is painful, especially in a world that is often overstimulating and stigmatizing to those who are neurodivergent—but treatment exists. At Spectrum Connections Therapy, we are committed to facilitating healing among our clients and helping them overcome trauma in a way that allows them to enjoy life, live authentically and function at their best.
Perhaps You’re Still Not Sure If Therapy Is Right For You Or Your Child…
I don’t have the time or money for trauma counseling.
If you or your child suffer from the residual effects of unprocessed trauma or abuse, you deserve to heal. Therapy is an investment in your mental health, which can provide lasting relief from the symptoms and behaviors keeping you stuck in pain and distress.
We will work to schedule sessions in a way that works for you and your family, and we partner with some insurance companies and victims compensation in Douglas and Jefferson County to offset the cost of treatment. Contact us to find out more.
We are a neurodiverse-affirming family and we are not aware of incidents of abuse—I don’t see how trauma therapy can help.
Even if there is no known instance of physical, sexual, or mental abuse, your child may have internalized the stigma of being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world. Much of our society still lacks awareness about neurodivergence and thus, often creates more pain, confusion, and feelings of danger for individuals who have ADHD, learning disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum.
Our therapists have the training and experience needed to identify symptoms of PTSD in neurodivergent clients. With these insights, we can facilitate a safer and more trusting relationship with your child so that they can make meaningful progress in therapy.
It will be too overwhelming for me/my child to discuss the trauma in therapy.
We understand that it can be painful and overwhelming to discuss a traumatic experience. For this reason, we are very careful not to re-traumatize our clients in trauma treatment. Our therapists know how to move at a safe and healthy pace, and we will make sure to provide effective coping strategies for when conversations become triggering or difficult.
In addition, EMDR is a gentle, body-based trauma therapy. Because it does not require clients to discuss the traumatic experience at length, EMDR is a beneficial tool for targeting trauma at the body-based, lower communication need level.
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Counseling at Spectrum Connections Therapy can help you understand the difference between developmental setbacks and symptoms of PTSD.