Helping Families Cope with Aspergers/Autism

Much of my family therapy experience relates to families have children on the autism/ aspergers spectrum. Ideally I look to develop a distinct and positive working relationship with both the child and the parents and use this as a vehicle to alter some of the more difficult dynamics they face. While this is “serious stuff,” that can at times be difficult, I bring a somewhat unique and if I dare say, “playful” attitude towards this approach and feel it is an important component in my work.

Perhaps the hardest part of getting the family to work together as a group is that the parents might be somewhat reluctant to look at the things they do because they see their child as having the problem. Furthermore, it’s difficult to change oneself, so this can be scary. However, it can also be very empowering because parents can use the process of therapy to modify some of their own actions to make a significant positive impact on their child. While it might involve more work, it’s more effective than labeling the child as the one with all the problems along with the expectation that he/she do all the changing. Having the adults share in some of the responsibility and express a willingness to change, demonstrates how the change process works. This modeling by the parents is perhaps the most powerful tool to create change in the child.

My approach

  • Begin with an initial meeting (usually with the parents, though it can be with the child too if appropriate)
  • Have several follow-up sessions with the child to get a more full sense of their functioning and to establish a good working relationship
  • Meet again with the full family, more clearly identify this family’s distinct features.
  • Look for opportunities where everybody has something that they’re working on & get agreement
  • Try to incorporate rewards, games and fun into the approach. Continue with meetings with the child alone and with the family as a group on an as needed basis


  • Daily life tends to be hectic and is often difficult for a busy family to maintain a consistent focus on their goals. In order to help support clients in identifying and achieving the changes they are looking for, I try to incorporate appropriate worksheets (reminders, progress charts, etc) and occasionally suggest an article or brief reading that might be useful.
  • Whenever possible, I try to have the family construct some kind of “game” out of the experience. Can the kid get points for incorporating new and positive behaviors? Can the parents help and get points too? Can there be individual rewards and a “family” reward too? The idea with this is to get everyone involved in helping improve the dynamics, make it fun and have the reward be a shared accomplishment.

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