Therapies and support

Adults

Adult support

You need and deserve support as you navigate your way through diagnosis and the years beyond.

Nobody should feel alone if they are struggling, and we all struggle at times. There are several types of support: personal and emotional, support with work and outside interests, with health, money management and any other issues you may face.

What sort of professional support may be helpful?

Professional support can come from psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists, speech therapists and occupational therapists. Support workers can also be employed if that would help you. These are the types of support that can be funded by an NDIS package.

Who’s Who - Overview of professionals

After you have a diagnosis of autism you may be eligible for support under the NDIS scheme. This may cover some or all of the costs of working with these professionals.

Psychologists

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy used by psychologists to help clients to replace unrealistic negative thoughts with positive, supportive and realistic ones. It helps people learn how to deal more effectively with the situations they find themselves in. Techniques to manage anxiety and depression are taught as part of CBT and are relaxation techniques.

Psychologists can also assist with improving emotional regulation and some can help with improving relationships with family and friends. Your psychologist can liaise with your place of work or study and with other service providers. Some psychologists can also assist with social skills training.

It is best to find a psychologist who has experience with autistic adults. You can start researching options by asking autistic peers, The Australian Psychological Society or using the Autism Connect national helpline or web chat.

Psychiatrists

Research tells us that 50%-70% of autistic people experience one or more mental health conditions. Most commonly these are anxiety disorders, depression and obsessive, compulsive disorder although other mental health conditions also occur.

Having a trusted GP whom you see regularly is one important step in maintaining and managing your mental health. Many autistic people also find that regular consults with a psychiatrist are beneficial, especially if they are taking medications. Find a psychiatrist with an interest in autism via your GP, your local autism association or the Autism Connect national helpline or web chat.

Speech and language therapists

In the process of receiving a diagnosis of autism you may have learned that you have deficits in receptive, expressive and/or pragmatic language. Here is a very brief explanation:

  • receptive language — understanding what others say and mean
  • spoken or expressive language — putting your own words together
  • pragmatic language — the social conventions of language, such as volume of speech and the ‘to and fro’ nature of reciprocal conversation

If this is the case, a speech and language therapist can help. Even small improvements in your speech and language might help your overall communication a great deal.

If you experience major challenges with speech and language then your speech therapists may use augmentative and alternative communication methods with you.

These can be simple picture exchange systems or more sophisticated speech generating devices.

To find a speech and language therapist who has experience with autistic adults try Speech Pathology Australia, or Autism Connect national helpline or web chat.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists (OTs) can work with autistic people to improve their sensory processing and to minimise the negative impact of sensory overload. This can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to work or study and to communicate and interact with other people.

If you have fine or gross motor challenges or issues with low muscle tone or motor planning then OT sessions can help improve these. OTs can help you to find modifications and technological aids to assist you at work or when studying, such as keyboards, desks and improved lighting.

Occupational Therapy Australia can help you find an OT who works with autistic adults as can the Autism Connect national helpline or web chat.

Social Skills Programs

There are some social skills programs which can be effective in improving social skills for autistic adults. Some of the peer support networks and groups which you will find on the peer support section offer structured programs run by autistic adults and these can be the most useful. Find other programs via your local autism association, see below, or via the Autism Connect national helpline or web chat.

State and Territory Autism Association

Most state and territory autism associations offer services to adults. Often these are geared towards adults with high support needs. You can find a list of state and territory autism associations below. Contact these to find out whether there might be assistance to suit you.

State-based autism associations

Complementary Therapies

Overall there has been very little research looking into the efficacy of complementary therapies for autistic adults. The exception to this is meditation and mindfulness which have been studied to some extent and shown to have benefits for wellbeing and cognitive function.

Some complementary therapies have been studied in the general population and found to have benefits, particularly acupuncture and massage. These may be worth investigating. It is always a good keeping your GP /  Psychologist informed of all the therapies that you try.

Art and Music Therapy

The use of music therapy to improve the health and wellbeing of autistic people has been studied and shown to have benefits. Although most studies have been small and undertaken with children, there is evidence of improved communication and social interaction. The therapeutic relationship between music therapist and client is crucial. Find out more from the Australian Music Therapy Association.

Similarly the study of art therapy to benefit autistic people has focused on children, with improvements in self regulation, social interactions and communication being seen. Autistic people are often very visual and many are gifted in art. If you are interested in exploring your creativity with art therapy have a look at the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA) website.

Sporting Activities

You may have found it difficult in the past to access sports teams or groups. If this is the case then it is worth looking for the support you need in order to take part in sporting activities. This can be part of an NDIS plan.

Once you know which sport you are keen to try, the next thing to do is ask your local club about their disability policies and to ask for assistance. Although many sporting organisations have improved their accessibility a great deal, there is still great diversity in awareness and expertise.

You could also try asking the Autism Connect national autism helpline too. Call 1300 308 699, open 8am – 7pm Monday to Friday or use the webchat function on the website.

Self Advocacy

Self advocacy means supporting yourself and making sure that your voice is heard and your needs met. You can read more about self advocacy on the Autism Launchpad website here.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand is run by autistic people. Read all about ASAN AUNZ on the website here. You will find information and resources here and can join as a member.

Your Health – Physical, Mental and Sexual

The Autism Launchpad website has a large health section where you can find information about how to look after yourself well. This covers general healthy living, sexual health, contraception, accessing doctors and looking after your mental health.

Read more on the Autism Launchpad Health section.

Your Social Life

You can find videos, personal stories and resources on the Social life section of the Autism Launchpad website. This covers:

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Making friends
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Conversation
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Managing friendships
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Dating and relationships
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Social media

Learning to look after yourself means more than just mental and physical health. Taking care of your own washing, your home and managing daily life may be a challenge for you. This is something that professionals can give you support with.

On the Autism Launchpad Becoming Independent section you can find more resources and information on these topics:

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Around the house
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Looking good
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Managing money
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Using public transport
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Learning to drive
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Sports and hobbies
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Housing
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Your consumer rights

Australian Autism Research Organisations

You may be interested in reading about current Australian academic research into autism. Researchers sometimes look for autistic adults to take part in research studies and this may be of interest to you.

The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) is based at La Trobe University. It was Australia’s first centre solely for research into autism spectrum disorder.

Autism CRC is an Australian national cooperative research group. The group aims to empower autistic people to use their strengths and interests across the lifespan. Research projects are inclusive and cooperative.

Other resources

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Gig Buddies Sydney

Gig Buddies matches teenagers and adults with learning disabilities are with volunteers so that they can attend gigs and stay out late.

Look for other major cities or contact Autism Connect for local services.

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Online Therapy + Book Shops

In our resource section you will find a large selection of links to books and therapy options

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My Diffability Australia

Find fidgets toys, calming blankets and other sensory resources on this website.

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The Therapy Store

This online store stocks a huge array on books, fidget and calming products and other therapeutic items.

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Relationships Australia

Relationships with family, friends and partners can be fragile. If you feel that your relationships need support contact Relationships Australia.

They offer counselling, as do private psychologists and counsellors.

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myWAY Employability

This website has been created by the Autism CRC, Australia’s peak autism research body, funded by the federal government. It is designed to help young autistic people to gain an understanding of their strengths and how these can be used in a career.

“An autism diagnosis earlier in life would have made things easier for me. I always knew I was different but didn’t understand why.”