Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Emotional Assets of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Single-Case Therapeutic Outcome Experiment

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Emotional Assets of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Single-Case Therapeutic Outcome Experiment

Article excerpt

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and social interactions as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). ASD "encompasses disorders previously referred to as early infantile autism, childhood autism, Kanner's autism, high-functioning autism, atypical autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Asperger's disorder" (APA, 2013, p. 53). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2014) estimated that one in 68 children in the United States has ASD. The prevalence of ASD has increased, as past estimates were one in 110 in 2006, one in 125 in 2004, and one in 150 in 2000 (CDC, 2014). These rates are considerably higher than almost 50 years ago when Lotter (1966) found a prevalence rate of 4.5 per 10,000. Additionally, the CDC (2014) reported a higher incidence in boys, with one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls having ASD.

As described in the most current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; APA, 2013), children with ASD struggle with social communication and social interaction. Dating back to the first observations of children with ASD, Kanner (1943) described these children as having an atypical way of relating to others. Current research also supports that children with ASD struggle with peer relationships (Greenspan & Wieder, 2006). Social communication and interaction involves social emotional reciprocity and nonverbal communicative behaviors, both of which are difficult for children with ASD. They have lower levels of empathy (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004) and may be less responsive to others because of their lack of awareness of others' emotions or not knowing how to respond (Loveland, 2005). In addition to the struggle of understanding and responding to others, children with ASD also have difficulty regulating their own emotions and behaviors (Jahromi, Bryce, & Swanson, 2013). This can be a result of sensory overload or difficulty with shifting their attention (Bolick, 2004).

As the prevalence of ASD increases, so does the need for appropriate interventions to help curtail the associated impairments resulting from the disorder (Krell & Perusse, 2012; Layne, 2007). Historical approaches to treating autistic symptoms have primarily included behavioral interventions that focus on the child's deficits. Some psychodynamic approaches have also been documented. Although researchers have demonstrated that behavioral strategies are effective in building specific skills (see Reichow, Doehring, Cicchetti, & Volkmar, 2011), there remains a need to address the interpersonal dynamics and struggles of children with ASD. Some experts in the field of ASD have proposed play-based interventions for working with children with ASD (Gallo-Lopez & Rubin, 2012; Greenspan & Wieder, 2006; Layne, 2007), providing support for using play therapy as a method of treatment.

* Child-Centered Play Therapy

Landreth (2012) defined play therapy as a dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child and a counselor trained in play therapy, and emphasized the relationship as an essential element for therapeutic change. With the development of this safe relationship, the child has the opportunity to fully express and explore his or her feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors. "Play provides a developmentally responsive means for expressing thoughts and feelings, exploring relationships, making sense of experiences, disclosing wishes, and developing coping strategies" (Landreth, 2012, p. 12). While playing, children have the opportunity to make sense of their experiences and feel a sense of control of their world, which is vital to emotional development. Play therapy may be an effective treatment method for children along the autism spectrum given their difficulties with verbal communication and reduced cognitive skills. …

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