- An individual who is dealing with autism can develop anxiety or depression related to their difficulties with social interactions.
- Children with autism often have difficulty in controlling their emotions that are triggered by frustrating situations.
- Communication is a challenge for many people with autism because they fail to notice, process, or respond to non-verbal cues.
- Hypnosis can be used in the treatment of autism for patients who are able to communicate verbally.
Autism can be defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes difficulty with social interactions and problems with verbal and non-verbal communication. These difficulties often cause affected individuals to develop socially inappropriate behaviors that can lead to a poorer quality of life for them as well as for those around them.
The autism spectrum is diverse, including individuals who are non-verbal and largely non-communicative on one extreme, to high-achieving individuals who function well in society despite their challenges with social interactions.
Treatment for autism includes behavioral management, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language therapy, nutritional therapy, and medications.
Hypnosis can be an additional tool in the treatment of autism for affected patients who are able to interact verbally and have mild to little intellectual impairment. Hypnosis can be used for:
An individual who is dealing with autism can develop anxiety or depression related to their difficulties with social interactions. People can feel very poorly about themselves when they feel they are performing to the best of their ability but that their efforts are not good enough.
To help improve the self-esteem of individuals with autism, I teach them how to enter a hypnotic state and then give themselves positive affirmations, such as, “I can improve with practice,” or, “I appreciate myself for my success thus far.”
Often, we discuss poet Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I explain that people can learn to be pleased with their efforts towards a goal, rather than feeling badly when they fall short of the goal.
Believing in Oneself
By teaching my patients with autism about the resourcefulness of their subconscious, they come to realize that they have many inner solutions for their challenges, which can give them a sense of hope and confidence.
We discuss author Christian Larson’s quote, “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.”
Children with autism often have difficulty controlling emotions triggered by frustrating situations. For example, children may be frustrated by their inability to communicate their needs or desires to their parents or teachers. Once they become frustrated, children with autism often struggle with expressing their emotions in a socially acceptable manner, such as talking about how they feel. As a result, emotional turmoil can lead to prolonged “meltdowns” that may include yelling, crying, or destructive acts such as hitting or breaking things.
The repetitive behaviors manifested in some people with autism often represent an attempt to self-soothe in dealing with anxiety.
I teach children with autism how to use hypnosis to calm themselves, by learning to shift their thinking from whatever is upsetting them to a thought about a pleasant subject. Once they have calmed down, children are often more able to express themselves in a way that is understood by others.
Hypnotic self-calming also is helpful in shifting an individual’s mindset, and thus can help deal better with rigid thought patterns that present as frequent obstacles for people with autism.
Modulating Sensory Response
Many people with autism deal with sensory integration difficulties. This can cause them to overreact to minor stimuli, such as noises or touch. Alternatively, sometimes sensory integration problems can cause underreaction to stimuli that can lead someone to seek intense sensory experiences, such as spinning, whirling, or jumping.
Through the use of hypnosis, I teach children to modulate their sensory responses. For example, they can imagine increasing or decreasing their sensations by turning an imaginary dial (e.g., turning down a volume dial to help deal with loud noises). Alternatively, they can change their sensory responsiveness by pretending they have become a favorite video or cartoon character who does not have difficulties with their sensory responses.
Paying Better Attention
One reason that communication is a challenge for people with autism is that they fail to notice, process, or respond to non-verbal cues.
I have frequently found that the subconscious of people with autism is more aware of non-verbal cues than the conscious self. Therefore, I have taught them how to access their subconscious and pay close attention to their inner voice while they observe the reactions of people around them.
Putting it all Together
Some people with autism are very bright, but because of their social difficulties, they develop behavioral issues that compound their challenges. For example, emotional meltdowns can cause disruption in the classroom and may prevent them from attending a regular school.
One of my highly intelligent patients with autism had become so disruptive at his public school that he was transferred to a school for behaviorally challenged individuals. Unfortunately, at that school, he was placed in a class with children with a wide range of intellectual abilities. Therefore, in this class, he was taught at a level far below his cognitive abilities, which caused him to be bored. This led him to develop further behavioral issues.
I met this young man when he was 13-years-old and taught him how to calm himself with hypnosis, and about how he can use his subconscious to help himself. Within a few months he was better able to control his behavior. I urged his parents to transfer him back to a school where he could be academically challenged. I helped his family ensure that an individual educational plan be instituted in the new school to better accommodate his emotional needs.
Seven years later the young man came to thank me for urging his parents to transfer him to a school that better met his needs. He told me that he was a pre-law student at a prestigious university.
Hypnosis can be used to help better deal with challenges arising from autism for people who are able to communicate verbally.
Copyright Ran D. Anbar
National Institute of Mental Health. (2011). A parent's guide to autism spectrum disorder. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/a-parents-guide-to-autism-s…
More information about hypnosis and how it can be used to help with chronic disease is available in the 2021 book, "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.