Closed Support Groups

I’ve been fortunate enough to lead one of our Closed Support Groups for (Autistic) adults at AANE for the last several years. These reflections are from my perspective as the facilitator; I cannot speak on others’ behalf. 

This was actually the first online group for Autistic adults we ran at AANE (we’d offered a couple for parents previously) and we weren’t sure how it’d go. This was pre-covid when using zoom was not the norm it is today. What we did know and feel was the massive need for support among this community. The virtual setting allowed us to reach more people to begin addressing this need, when little or nothing else was available. 
The groups are small, capped at 12 members, and coupled with the 8 week structure, this allows for a certain trust and intimacy to develop. They use a facilitated peer support model, meaning group members are primarily the ones providing support to one another.

The amount of acceptance, encouragement, vulnerability and wisdom shared by group members has been beautiful to witness. What makes it even more so is the wide array of backgrounds/identities members have. Among the many commonalities, there are vastly different experiences. Life experience is a teacher like no other and when that experience has been marked by pain and struggle, it leads to an incredible amount of empathy. But it would also be a disservice to not acknowledge the sharing of interests and strengths.  

Although people can join the group regardless of when or if they have received a professional/official diagnosis, the majority of members have been newly diagnosed (within the last few years). After years and years of not knowing, yet having to navigate as though they received the same guidebook to life bestown to others, this group says yes, you’re different and no, nothing is wrong with you.  When you’ve received the message again and again that being different is not okay, it’s going to have an impact. While Autism affirming therapy can be very helpful in addressing this, I’ve heard many members say that the group experience has been equally if not more powerful. Of course everyone’s process is their own. 

I have been changed for the better by being the facilitator of this group and I’m looking forward to many more rounds.

Kelly Urban
Senior Manager of Individual & Family Services

The Therapist’s Corner: Self-Esteem on the Spectrum

One area I learned a great deal about through Greg’s sharing his experiences with me is the way self- esteem is affected when one is on the Spectrum.   I need to say up front that struggles with self esteem are extremely common for people whether they are on the Spectrum or neurotypical.  The foundation of self-esteem begins in early childhood and small children are very vulnerable to taking on beliefs about themselves that will determine whether they feel good about themselves or not when they grow up.   

Young children are by their nature self-centered, that is to say that everything they experience is processed as being about themselves.    If a child is in an environment where some of their basic needs aren’t met, they are incapable of thinking that they are deserving and worthy of getting their needs met, and the problem is with their circumstances– instead the child will conclude that it is their fault and if they were different (smarter, ‘better’ somehow) they would receive those things.    For children on the spectrum, this is often connected to their sense of being ‘different’, and since this is something that the child can’t change, a permanent sense of low self esteem can be an understandable outcome.

Low self-esteem can lead to other mental health issues like depression, difficulties with relationships, employment, and difficulties with taking up for oneself which can lead to being taken advantage of by others.  Socially, low self-esteem can often result in becoming withdrawn and isolated.  Being around others, whether in social or work environments, is much more stressful when you suffer with low self-esteem and can further contribute to isolation and loneliness.  

Since two of the most basic human needs are to love and be loved and to have a place to belong, low self-esteem can make getting these needs met difficult if not seemingly impossible.  For this reason, getting help to deal with low self-esteem can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life.   Finding a therapist who understands the special ways in which being on the Spectrum affects self- esteem can be the first step to feeling better about oneself and seeing positive change both in your relationship with yourself and others.

In the next installment of The Therapist’s Corner we’ll look at some specific ways to move to better self-esteem.