In all my years working with young people, some of the most notable and eye opening experiences have unfolded while working as Primary Therapist for the Echo group. Consisting of 14-17 year old boys, many students in Echo group share a history of struggling with a broad range of emotional and behavioral challenges, as well as presenting symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder.
What challenges do students on the autism spectrum face and how do their parents struggle alongside them?
Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, a very common struggle of individuals with autism becomes most obvious is social settings. Whether they are overstimulated by their senses, or not picking up on social cues, students on the spectrum often share social difficulties that can manifest into anxiety and eventually depression. Because social situations in an unpredictable public setting can be so overwhelming, many students resort to isolating in the comfort of their bedrooms, glued to a familiar screen that is streaming their favorite video game.
Due to this cycle of overstimulation, anxiety, and isolation, many parents are left in the dark and unsure of how to help their child get out of this seemingly unending pattern. Parents wish to engage with their child, see them thrive, and get them out of their bedroom! But, how? Many of the parents I work with share they have “tried everything” and yet they are at a loss for what to do next. I remind parents that there is hope and adolescents on the spectrum are fully capable or thriving once they have developed the skills and tools to manage the world around them.
What therapeutic approaches are used to help these students find success and reconnect to their families?
I utilize a variety of approaches when working with these students. Much of my work embraces a literal, concrete, and direct approach that is familiar to the way their brains function. For example, Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) helps students regulate their emotions and develop coping skills when specific events or behaviors trigger feelings of dysregulation. Other approaches include:
- Walking through social situations: When a student is involved in an interaction that has left them or someone else feeling awkward or uncomfortable, we use this as an opportunity to walk through what happened and identify an alternative approach that will produce a more preferred outcome. I often take students to the sidelines of the group and walk them through the social situation, discussing the use of social cues and tips to improve interactions in the future. Students take what they’ve learned from these discussions and practice within their group of peers.
- Roleplaying social situations: In addition to taking students to the sidelines and walking them through interactions, we use roleplay within the group to mimic social interactions. I then ask students questions about the social interaction; what went right and what could be improved. We practice empathizing with peers (something that can feel unnatural for students on the spectrum) and seeking to understand outside perspectives and perceptions.
- Incorporating yoga and mindfulness: Our group is rooted in mindfulness and yoga. Every morning students participate in a yoga flow called Sun Salutation A. This practice helps students familiarize themselves with their bodies, move with confidence, and connect their emotions and thoughts to physical sensations. Students are also empowered to utilize movement and breath to “get out of their head and into their body”. This helps them alleviate emotional suffering through physical exercise and unravel a place where they feel mentally stuck.
- Taking on a leadership role: Many students arrive at Trails questioning their capacity to be successful. By encouraging students to take on leadership roles within our group, I see a huge boost in confidence and self esteem. Through completing tasks and guiding others, they experience all the wonderful things they are capable of and this is magical for them.
- Letter writing to families: Students exchange letters with family members throughout their time at Trails. These letters explain feelings and behaviors expressed by students that may have caused disruption at home and help improve the parent-child relationship. In the letters, students talk about what they are doing within the program, the confidence they’ve gained, and their excitement to continue improving. Often, families feel like they are at the end of their rope before sending their child to our program. These letters help families reconnect and see the progress their child is making at Trails.
For more information about programming for students on the autism spectrum, please check out our previous blog – Why Choose Wilderness Therapy For Teens on The Autism Spectrum?
Trails Carolina offers help for teens on the spectrum
Searching for the right program that fits your teen’s needs can be a lengthy process. If traditional outpatient therapies aren’t offering improvements, it might be time to look into a wilderness therapy program like Trails Carolina.
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for teens, ages 10 to 17, struggling with issues such as social challenges, depression, defiance, anxiety, ADHD and many others. We strive to create meaningful change within our students through the use of individual, group, family, equine and wilderness therapy. We can help your family recover.
For more information about help for defiant teens at Trails, contact us today at 800-975-7303.
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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.
Margot Lowman August 2022
Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.
Winnifred Wilson July 2022
Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.
Kristin Brace June 2022
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