Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tips for when working with patients on the spectrum

When working with kids and adults on the spectrum, one of the patterns we may see is that they tend to be very “inner compass” and less so “outer compass” orientated.

Inner compass folks tends to follow their inner principles, what makes sense to them, their inner values, or how they feel, at the price of creating some disharmony in the “outer world”. They like to live life true to who they are, and have less compulsion to conform to external societal thinking, and social norms.  Following their inner compass manifests as very independent thinking.  Hence, we may hear the expression, “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism”, and many may reject that the community speaks for them.  The “inner compass” is defined by the individual’s inner principles and values, so we have to take time to understand that.  

This is of course their strength, as well as their weakness. 

There are a number of strategies to help this group if their inner compass to too different to the outer compass, creating adjustment issues with associated stress, depressed or anxious mood.

1 Help them to work on their awareness of the “outer compass”, but this can be a hard road. It’s like asking a left handed person to use their right hand.

2 Help them to find people in their tribe who are “outer compass” to complement them.

3 Help them and their family to have the emotional literacy to understand, and fully accept their “inner compass”, and consider fine tuning it to be more adaptable to the outer world.

Having said that, “neurotypical” folks who are good with navigating social rules and social norms, have a lot to learn from these folks too. They can run into a lot of emotional problems with following the “outer compass” too much. 

They are more at risk of following the crowd, peer pressure, fear of being judged, and losing themselves and who they are. 

Outer compass folks are better at creating more outer harmony, but at the cost of inner disharmony.

Inner compass folks are better at creating more inner harmony, but at the cost of outer disharmony. 

I might like to add to the above that if one is inner compass, then it depends on the quality of that inner compass. If it’s good and helpful, then great. If it’s bad and maladaptive, then we need to be careful.  Likewise, if one is outer compass, then it will depend on the environment and the people we have in our tribe. 

Typical or not, it’s all part of “normal”. We have a lot to learn from each other to find that balance and elusive sweet spot.

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