Autism & Trauma: Exploring Effects and Strategies

December 3rd, 2020 | 9:00 AM - 3:30 PM

The Autism Societies of Minnesota and Greater Wisconsin invite autistic individuals, caregivers, mental health professionals, direct service providers, and more to a virtual one-day workshop during which leading professionals in our region will explain the compelling intersection between autism and trauma in children and adults. Learn about the models for understanding traumatic experience, as well as possible interventions, accommodations, and adaptations for individuals with autism.

Autism & Trauma: Exploring Effects and Strategies

A collaborative workshop offered virtually by the Autism Societies of Greater Wisconsin and Minnesota

Trauma has a powerful capacity to shape a person’s physical, emotional, and social health and development. No less profound is the toll that persistent trauma exacts on individual behavior, processing, and community living. Though trauma is pervasive, there are many misconceptions about its identification, presentation, and treatment.

It is critically important that we understand the manifestation and impact of trauma in diverse communities, particularly amongst those with disabilities and neurodiversities. As research begins to address this intersection, we are learning that there are many autistic children and adults who have been exposed to trauma and who experience its impact daily. Autistic processing combined with trauma can have cumulative and complex effects on sensory processing, social development, emotional regulation, executive function, and more.

The evolving study of the impact of trauma is necessary for the development of awareness, screening, and supports for a growing number who cope with childhood or adult trauma in their lives.

The Autism Societies of Minnesota and Greater Wisconsin invite autistic individuals, caregivers, mental health professionals, direct service providers, and more to a virtual one-day workshop during which leading professionals in our region will explain the compelling intersection between autism and trauma in children and adults. Learn about the models for understanding traumatic experience, as well as possible interventions, accommodations, and adaptations for individuals with autism.

Certificates of Attendance for six content hours will be provided for continuing education credit. Scholarships are available upon request.

Unable to attend the live workshop? All sessions will be recorded and available to registered participants through December 15th.

*Content warning: The Autism Societies of Greater Wisconsin and Minnesota and our speakers assert that graphic descriptions or visualizations of traumatic events will not be shared explicitly. However, we recognize that the subject of trauma can be taxing for some. Watch our registration page for updates that can help prepare you for the content as well as resources and supports for self-management.

A Neurodivergent Brain in a Neurotypical World: Neurology and Trauma in the Autistic Experience

Presented by Phyllis C. Solon, PsyD, LP

The development of a neurodiverse brain is complex and multifactored. Advances in neuro-imaging in the last 20 years has given us a window into this wiring and the interplay between internal elements, such as temperament, genetics, and brain structures and connections, and external factors, like family, environmental stimuli, socio-cultural systems, and oppression.

While each person is unique, there are patterns of experiences and factors that come together to create neurodiverse brains. The neural systems most involved in autism are particularly tuned to social interaction, emotional reception and expression, and sensory and arousal systems. Understanding brain and developmental basics can help to contextualize a person’s reading of and interactions in the world. Having this information can also shed light on how the world as it is currently designed can be perplexing, overwhelming and/or frightening for neurodiverse people.

Environments and relationships that are most often attuned to neurotypical brains can have a traumatic impact on neurodiverse people throughout childhood and emerging adulthood. Furthermore, others’ responses, usually driven by a neurotypical and tacit understanding of the world, can result in people being unheard, misunderstood, and often disbelieved about their own experiences. Repeated exposure to these mis-attunements and misalignments can increase anxiety, feed a sense of loneliness and isolation, and deepen depression or hopelessness.

During this presentation, participants will review neurological information underpinning social, emotional, and relational development from childhood through emerging adulthood. In that context, people’s responses to a neurotypical world can be understood as being adaptive to overwhelming situations. This knowledge can help neurodiverse individuals understand themselves and their responses in context and assist them in creating environments and relationships that most support them to continue to be all of who they are meant to be in the world. Parents, partners, friends, and families will be better equipped to understand and appreciate their neurodiverse people and teachers, coaches, and therapists will be more able to see and serve their needs.

Phyllis C. Solon, PsyD, LP

Pronouns: she/her

Phyllis C. Solon, PsyD, LP is a clinician, consultant and trainer in South Minneapolis and a professor at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Since 1995, she has worked to understand neurodiverse people and train clinicians, families, and educators, and she has designed and taught multiple courses in the U.S. and abroad since 1998. She also is the co-developer of the AIR Network Model of understanding and working with people with complex PTSD and dissociative experiences and has helped train over 200 clinicians in the model since 2015.

Dr. Solon grew up in an Irish and Polish, Catholic family on the Southside of Chicago in a large extended family. She has been conscious of racism and sexism since the 70s and has been on a journey of dismantling both, internally and in external systems, since then. Professionally, Dr. Solon has trained and consulted in mental health, education and religious organizations on a range of topics concerning culture, diversity, inclusion, privilege, and intersectionality since the mid 1990s and has taught courses on multiculturalism in counseling and supervision to doctoral students for the last 20 years.

Areas of clinical competency and specialization include work with clients with profound trauma and dissociation, families who have adopted trans-racially and/or trans-nationally, neurodiversity and Autism Spectrum Disorder, and all of the overlapping spaces amongst them. She has worked as a therapist, supervisor, and clinical director in a variety of multidisciplinary and multicultural clinical settings serving the needs of children, adolescents, and families. Well versed in the neurology of attunement, attachment, development, and trauma and the use of interpersonal neurobiology
in providing therapy across the life span, Dr. Solon has conducted individual, couples, family, and group therapy. In addition, she provides clinical consultation on trauma, multiculturalism, autism, and many other topics to professionals and organizations and has designed and taught a wide variety of psychology courses both in the U.S. and abroad.

Dr. Solon sees teaching and learning as taking place within the context of relationships and believes that the highest good is to love, honor, and protect others, particularly children and those who cannot protect themselves. She understands therapy as the practice of deep listening for each person’s dignity to clear a space so that they can free themselves from all of the bindings that have been placed upon them. She has learned over a long period of time that there is no such thing as self-sufficiency: we are all intensely and intrinsically interdependent. Dr. Solon teaches and practices from the perspective that every interaction has the potential to hurt or to heal and tries to fall as much on the healing side as possible.

The Interplay Between Sensory, Trauma, and Autism

Presented by Jen Bluske, OTR

In this presentation, we will look at the bi-directional relationship between trauma and the sensory regulation system as it impacts those with a diagnosis of autism. We will explore how a trauma response could be created in individual with sensory differences and/or autism and how we can mitigate this.  Finally, we will explore fundamental strategies to help individuals with autism work through trauma responses and feel a sense of empowerment through safety and connection.

Jen Bluske, OTR

Pronouns: she/her

Jen Bluske, OTR is an occupational therapist and owner of Children’s Therapy Network in Madison, Wis. Her career has centered around engaging children through relationships and a deep understanding of the sensory, relational, and emotional qualities that each unique child brings. Bluske has extensive training in sensory-based trauma work, parent-child attachment styles and relational patterns, autism, and post-adoptive needs. While she does individual work with children, she embraces the reality that no child exists outside of the relationship with their caregiver, and thus all of her work is done in the context of the relationship of the parent/caregiver-child unit. Bluske enjoys the unique perspective each child brings to this world and enjoys working to understand the way in which her clients experience the world around them.

Now Is Not Then: Identifying and Treating Trauma with Autistic Clients

Presented by Sara Lahti, MA, CCTP

This unprecedented time of pandemic has the ability to trigger past trauma for many people on the autism spectrum. Learn how past trauma can affect current and ongoing trauma for autistic clients. Understand how to recognize trauma in autistic clients and how to use their strengths in healing, and learn common techniques used in treating trauma and how they can be adapted to benefit autistic clients.

Sara Lahti, MA, CCTP

Pronouns: she/her

Sara Lahti, a Mental Health Practitioner and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, is a therapist currently working on becoming an Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). Lahti graduated with her Master of Arts degree in 2018 and previously earned a BA in psychology through the University of St. Thomas. Lahti has worked with children with ASD as well as with people with ASD and other disabilities in a day program facility.

Lahti has a passion for working with adults on the autism spectrum. She uses Adlerian and person-centered therapeutic techniques to help clients better understand themselves and their strengths. Lahti’s Master’s thesis focused on using Early Recollections with people on the spectrum, which she believes is central to understanding clients’ core beliefs. She works with clients on thought patterns and how they affect daily living and also helps clients develop social interest within themselves and their communities.

EMDR and ASD: Barriers and Successes

Presented by Beth Pitchford, MA, LPCC

Discuss perceived and real barriers to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with clients on the spectrum. Learn creative solutions to navigating those barriers as you explore successful cases. Challenges discussed will include clients with PTSD symptoms who do not meet the DSM 5 criteria for PTSD, difficulties with joint attention, and sensory sensitivities that present as a barrier to EMDR. Celebrate the creativity of autistic clients and their approach to trauma therapy.

Beth Pitchford, MA, LPCC

Pronouns she/her

Beth Pitchford earned a master’s degree in Psychology from the Adler Graduate School (AGS), where she focused on learning about autism and how various aspects of Adlerian psychology could compliment the standard use of cognitive behavioral therapy with people on the autism spectrum. Pitchford became passionate about working with people on the “invisible” part of the spectrum (formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome) after she realized that many people close to her are on the spectrum and have spent most of their lives wondering why they felt so different.

Pitchford values working with adults who want to decode the neurotypical world in order to decrease barriers to community acceptance and to increase feelings of success. She works with adolescents as they navigate the super-social world of the teenage years. Using cognitive behavioral approaches and her Adlerian training, Pitchford’s goal is to help people better understand not only themselves but also the people in their lives.

Choosing Acceptance and Appreciation: Supporting Autistic Individuals in Non-Autistic Environments

Presented by Barb Luskin, PhD, LP

The non-autistic environment fails to support individuals by assuming verbal capacity equals thinking capacity, lack of consideration for sensory differences, reluctance to socially interact with those seen as different, and generally discounting the capacity of those who appear different. These characteristics include sensory differences, literal understanding of language, differing use of nonverbal information, difficulty imagining alternative behaviors, processing delays, and communication differences. Apply the concepts presented throughout the day to better support individuals who have experienced trauma, acknowledge the validity of their experience, and how to modify evidence-based practices to increase effective coping techniques.

Understand how a supportive, flexible neuro-majority can positively impact neurodiverse lives. This includes honoring others’ experience and truth-asking for information with honesty and true curiosity; being willing to adapt rather than demand that the autistic person always be the one to change – not assuming you have all the answers; not assuming that behavior you dislike is deliberately intended to upset you and/or that the individual knows how to do something else; and incorporating alternative communication and sensory strategies (i.e., universal design).

This session will conclude with a mindfulness exercise to process, center, and relax.

Barbara Luskin, PhD, LP

Pronouns she/her

Dr. Luskin is a licensed psychologist who has worked closely with children and adults with ASD for more than 30 years in professional and home settings. She specializes in providing both assessments and counseling to individuals with ASD and those who support them.

Dr. Luskin’s services include diagnostic and functional assessments, individual therapy for adults and adolescents, and training and consultation for caregivers. She helps them understand ASD, teaches them creative and effective interventions, helps them evaluate progress, and provides guidance when adjustments are needed.

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