The EMDR Autism Protocol: Tolerating the Intolerable
Autism can be seen within the wider context of neurodiversity as individuals who think, process and perceive memories and experiences differently. They learn differently.
Autistic individuals have contributed hugely to our society in positive ways, however there may be social and learning challenges for neurodiverse individuals
Autistic clients may not follow the typical trajectory of processing, requiring perhaps a greater level of flexibility and creativity. There may further be overlapping conditions and comorbidity with other conditions such as intellectual disability, conduct problems, processing disorders or physiological health challenges, leading to ever greater complexity in formulation and treatment planning, for the EMDR therapist. In addition, diagnostic overshadowing with autism symptomology means that often clients with autism are 'missed' in terms of the impact of significant life events for the client, with the consequence of them often not receiving the help they need to heal.
This presentation examines the differing needs of autistic individuals with the central tenant being the impact of trait anxiety and difficulties in emotional regulation, so often seen in autistic individuals. By using an extended preparation phase for autism, designed to help identify emotions and bring the experience of emotion within client's window of tolerance, delivering EMDR becomes much easier and the client's capacity to manage affect improves.
Where trauma does exist, the use of narratives or modifications to standard protocol will be addressed and for non-verbal autistic clients, the need to find a mechanism of communication for the client to convey their fears, emotions, behaviours and thoughts will be shared with the need for adaptability within the EMDR framework highlighted.
For EMDR therapists working with neurodiverse and autistic clients, we need to recognise the unique strengths of our clients, whilst holding in mind the challenges to delivering effective EMDR therapy, when and how to modify the standard protocol, in order to meet the needs of the client.
In order to create a more humane, kind and productive 'tomorrow' it makes sense that we need to support our clients of today to be healthier and more resilient. And celebrating the creativity of neurodiverse individuals, whilst supporting their mental and emotional health is a huge part of that future.
Potential to Distress
This presentation was originally presented as a live webinar in June 2022.
Upon Completion of this webinar, participants will be able to:
- Discuss the challenges and appreciate the strengths of the autistic brain
- Describe the need for transdiagnostic approaches based on comorbidity in autism, and to be aware of the missed opportunities for trauma processing, based on diagnostic overshadowing
- Examine the challenges of the neurodiverse / autistic client and select an appropriate target accordingly
- Explain how to pair emotions to grounding responses to help regulate neurodiverse and autistic clients, as part of an extended preparation modification
- Modify the standard protocol to meet the needs of the client, especially where clients may be non-verbal
Presenter: Susan Darker-Smith, Psychotherapist
Presenter Bio: Susan Darker-Smith, MSc, LLM is a Europe Accredited Child & Adolescent EMDR Trainer with a passion for human rights issues. She is passionate about supporting neurodiversity and in helping society to recognise the richness, skill and brilliance they can bring to our world. She is the clinical director of the Child Trauma Therapy Centre in Shropshire, England and has over 20 years experience in providing child-led trauma therapy and clinical supervision to hospital trusts and organisations. Susan is actively involved in several charities and non-profit organisations, including the Global Child-EMDR Alliance, Trauma Response Network UK (TRN) and the Child Humanitarian Intervention Learning & Development. She funds three scholarship programs which offers full bursaries for child EMDR training to those who otherwise would not be able to financially access training and she believes that our actions today shapes the future of our world, tomorrow.
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