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Neurodiverse Affirming and Trauma-Informed Care

Historically, neurodiversity and mental health have rarely been used in the same sentence. The question begs, can a neurodivergent individual (someone diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, etc.) also be diagnosed with a mental health disorder (i.e., depression or anxiety)? Even though these medical diagnoses have been discussed separately, neurodivergent children and adults can struggle with their mental health and have two diagnoses. 

In fact, “Adolescents diagnosed with autism and/or ADHD are at heightened risk for anxiety and depression,” states the National Library of Medicine.

Being a neurodivergent individual can come with its challenges, from social isolation and bullying to being misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Moreover, people who are neurodivergent can have increased stress and frustration when it comes to specific skills that are hindering their ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks. 

A local practice that is bringing awareness to neurodivergent individuals with multiple diagnoses is All Minds Counseling, LLC. The owner, Emily Schleich, LMFT, is passionate about the intersection of neurodiversity and mental health. 

“Since opening my practice, I have come to learn that not many parents recognize that mental health services are even available for their child, family, or parenting relationship when autism is present,” Schleich shares. “This is something I hope can change in our community.”

The All Minds Counseling team in Denver recognizes individuals’ unique struggles when navigating multiple diagnoses. Her team is here to help and raise awareness among Colorado families. 

Understanding Multiple Diagnoses
In the medical field, the coexistence of two or more diagnoses is called comorbidity. For neurodivergent individuals, this can mean having a diagnosis of Autism, OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, etc., and also being diagnosed with a mental illness. 

At All Minds Counseling, the clinicians understand that having multiple diagnoses can be overwhelming, frustrating, and intimidating for neurodivergent individuals and their families. The practice offers individual, couple, and family sessions. 

The Unique Approach
A common therapy approach for neurodivergent individuals is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). This method typically revolves around reinforcing specific behaviors with the hope that they will continue to repeat them. While this approach works for some, it doesn’t work for every neurodivergent child and adult. 

However, All Minds Counseling takes a unique approach that puts the agency in the hands of the client. Rather than the practitioner deciding which behaviors are appropriate, the client can choose what aspects they would like to change and what elements they want to remain the same. 

In addition to the client having autonomy, the practice focuses on two care tactics that are different from ABA: neurodiverse affirming and trauma-informed care. 

Neurodiverse Affirming
At All Minds Counseling, the practice understands neurodiversity and uses evidence-based practices, behavioral services, and parenting support to help families gain control over their lives.

“Neurodiverse affirming recognizes the individual in front of us. We honor the neurodiversity and their strengths with that,” Schleich explains. “We don’t require anything different from them if they feel comfortable one way.” 

For example, in traditional ABA Therapy, eye contact is often required and is seen as a necessary behavior. At a neurodiverse affirming practice, the client isn’t required to do a specific behavior if it makes them uncomfortable.

Another essential approach All Minds Therapy takes is being a trauma-informed practice. 

“Unfortunately, people who are neurodiverse have a higher statistic of having trauma because of their differences,” Schleich says.

 A study conducted in 2020 found that over 40 percent (of the autistic adults who participated in the survey) displayed signs of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while over 60 percent reported experiencing probable PTSD at some point in their lives. 

Trauma can be caused for several different reasons, like hospitalization, seclusion, and being misunderstood and mistreated. Research suggests that children on the spectrum are three times as likely to be targets of bullying as their neurotypical peers. Recognizing the higher prevalence of trauma among neurodivergent individuals, All Minds Counseling is prepared to help neurodivergent children and adults who have trauma.

All of our clinicians have a background in trauma and view things through that lens when understanding many of these children and adults who have experienced some form of trauma, explains Schleich. Which, in turn, affects how these individuals present themselves. 

Getting Help
Schleich encourages neurodivergent individuals seeking help to go to a specialist who understands neurodiversity. These specialists understand the problems a neurodivergent individual might encounter and can provide some language and information to help families.

If your child or partner is neurodivergent and struggling with their mental health, there are clinicians who can help. Both ABA Therapy and the neurodivergent affirming and trauma-informed approach have success stories. If you’re looking for a therapy option to help your child or partner, either of these approaches is a good place to start. 

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