EMDR and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Because of the nature of EMDR, it can be an appropriate therapy for individuals on the Autism spectrum. For adults with ASD, it is important to be able to communicate any concerns, learning differences and accommodations needed. EMDR can be implemented with the traditional eye movement, tapping on the back of hands, knees or ankles with the therapist’s hands or a long paintbrush. Pulsars, which the individual holds or has taped to their shoulders, can also be used to provide the bilateral stimulation that is needed to process difficult material effectively.

EMDR can be engaged in while sitting quietly, with the therapist checking in to monitor the processing of the event/emotional disturbance, without a need for the individual to narrate.  Other individuals on the spectrum prefer to talk the entire EMDR session, because there are vivid images and fantasy stories that emerge with the trauma, and it needs to be spoken. Both are acceptable and appropriate; it is important for you to communicate any concerns or requests with your therapist.

For children, there are often sensory issues that need to be addressed, with the child identifying the type of bilateral stimulation that can be acceptable or tolerated. Over time, it has been observed that the child with ASD becomes comfortable and accepting of the process.  Play therapy is used, and a mixture of sand tray, books, free-play is used in conjunction with the bilateral stimulation. EMDR looks very different with children than with adults, but it is still been shown to be highly effective as the brain is able to heal from traumatic and/or disturbing experiences.

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