AuSM's highly trained, certified therapists have committed their careers to helping individuals with autism understand their diagnosis and address both the challenges and gifts the diagnosis can bring. The AuSM Counseling and Consulting Services (ACCS) team works in partnership with you to develop a plan based on your needs. ACCS is currently available for new clients.
  Hi Björn,

My younger brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a few years ago. Although it was difficult in the beginning, he now has come to accept his diagnosis. He graduated high school last year, and now fills his days with listening to music (everything from classical to popular music), playing computer games, and helping out at home. I'm glad he's enjoying himself, but I'm worried that because he is not working or going to school he doesn't have many opportunities to socialize. He spends time with his younger brother and me, but he has expressed that he wants to get out more. However, j ust the thought of meeting new people makes him anxious. Add in his sensory needs, and it's very hard for him to make friends.

What can I do to help my brother?

Concerned Brother

Dear Concerned Brother,

It makes me happy to read that you care so much about your brother. The process of transitioning to adulthood can be difficult. Your brother is not alone in experiencing this distress. School and work provide us with routines, structures, and opportunities to grow. Not having these routines can cause feelings of emptiness and hopelessness, and watching others attend college or find jobs can leave someone feeling left out.

These feeling s can manifest themselves through anger, depression, grief, and anxiety. It is important to be supportive of your brother and help him look for resources that can enrich his social life. If you're concerned that his negative feelings are impacting his everyday life, therapy could be an additional support.

To support your brother, you might start by looking at his special interests and strengths. He likes computer games and music, so it might be easier for him to make connections with people who have similar interests. For this, I would recommend looking for groups that meet up and discuss their special interests. A resource is meetup.com . It could be helpful if you went with him the first few times so you two could get a good feeling about what the group is like.

If bigger groups are something that creates more stress, I would recommend going to smaller and more sensory-friendly meetings. However, remember that your brother has to be comfortable doing this. Although he might want to build a bigger social network, he might not be ready for it. It is important to encourage him, remind him of the benefits, but also let him take his time. If it takes a little bit longer, be okay with that. We all have different needs.

Since your brother likes music, one idea might be to see live music. As he is sensory sensitive and anxious around people, going to concerts can be incredibly stressful. With loud music and not enough space to move around, this can cause a sensory overload. However, going to a sensory-friendly concert might be different. Sensory-friendly concert events are more relaxed, the environment is inclusive, and the people attending them usually are open and friendly. The Minneso ta Orches tra currently is arranging sensory-friendly concerts. Attending one of those could be helpful.

Also, do not forget that the Autism Society of Minnesota has community events, support groups, and social skills classes. Not only would your brother get a chance to meet others with ASD and make new connections, but he also might develop a new interest. In addition, classes can give your brother a chance to learn more social skills, which would help him feel more secure around other people but also with himself. Support groups may give him a place to test out his social skills, and learn from others who have struggled with similar issues.

I wish you and your brother the best of luck!

Best,
Björn Walter, MA
A Response to Last Month's Column
Dear Dr. Luskin,

I read the response from Overprotective Mama and I'm surprised you don't see this behavior as dangerous. Our high-functioning autistic adult child displays this behavior in public and on occasions, has been approached by strangers questioning this behavior. Now they may be kind strangers, but it says "victim" to malevolent individuals when an adult expresses this behavior in public. We have tried to suppress this behavior for our child, but it appears it is an entrenched neurological response.
 
Perhaps you could talk further regarding the implications of being an independent vulnerable adult.
 
-Worried Parent

Dear Worried-

I hear your concern. As a parent as well as a professional, I am aware that the world is not always a safe and nurturing place. Being “different” does make an individual more vulnerable to bullying and manipulation. Unfortunately, merely suppressing odd behaviors such as hand flapping does little to address this problem. 

Many with autism will appear different due to things they cannot change such as tone of voice, facial expressions, gait, and so on. Others can “pass” for a little while, but most of the adults I know report that eventually others figure out that they are different and some will seek to take advantage of them or feel negatively about being misled. However, at least one research study suggests that disclosure of the diagnosis can improve other’s impression of someone with autism. 
  
In any event, since individuals with ASD respond to the world differently, what we must do is teach them skills to understand what to expect in relationships, signs of being victimized, and who to go to for help and support. Of course we should, as I mentioned in the original response, give them information, when they are able to understand, about how their behavior impacts others and teach them alternative behaviors that they can choose to use. We also can help individuals learn how to explain their behavior to others in a way that is more likely to lead to support. 

It has been my experience that if we force an individual to give up a behavior that meets a real need for them, including self-regulation, they will find another behavior that serves the function. Usually the new behavior causes even more problems for the individual.

Ultimately, as parents we cannot protect our children from all danger and hurt. We can give them the emotional skills they need to be resilient and knowledge that they can turn to others for help. Knowing that they are valued as they are is an important part of that resiliency. 

-Dr. Luskin
AuSM Counseling and Consulting Services
Dr. Amy Carrison, PsyD, LADC
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Sara Pahl, MS, BCBA, LPCC, NCC
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Dr. Jennifer S. Reinke, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE
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Bjorn Walter, MA
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Barbara L. Photo
Dr. Barb Luskin, PhD, LP
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Beth Pitchford, LPCC
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Meg Benefield, MSW, LICSW
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Sara Lahti, MA
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