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  • Writer's pictureQuique Autrey

Seen Not Watched: Why Autistic Teens Need Relational Therapy

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Over the years, I've noticed that many of the autistic teens I've worked with have developed an identity structured by surveillance. What do I mean by this? My autistic clients have spent most of their life having authority figures and peers watch them and point out what they are doing wrong or how they are different. Parents have watched them and corrected their emotional outbursts. Therapists have analyzed their patterns and corrected their behavior. Teachers have studied them and corrected their social interactions (or lack thereof). Peers have observed them and poked fun at their odd eccentricities.

Many of the clients that come into my office are tired. They are tired of this constant surveillance and the lingering feeling of inadequacy that comes with it. My clients are weary of being watched and reminded of how they do not conform to the social norm. This incessant surveillance often leads to low self-esteem, a shame-based self-concept and little to no confidence.

What most of my clients need is to be seen not watched.

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Seen, Not Watched

In my therapy, I am governed by Relational-Cultural Theory. This is a mode of doing therapy that emphasizes the centrality of vulnerability, mutual empathy and growth-fostering relationships. One of the basic human needs we have is to be adequately seen in a relationship. To be seen is to be understood, appreciated and valued as a unique individual. In a relational context, being seen means being accepted and validated exactly as we are.

One of my psychological heroes is Fred Rogers. He had a special way of seeing people on and off the television screen. Mr. Rogers once said

“When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is—the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

Watching is very different than seeing. Watching implies surveillance for a certain desired outcome. My autistic clients have been watched by teachers and therapists for years as a means of controlling their behavior. To be seen is to be invited into a space of love and acceptance. Seeing receives the person as they are, not as they should be.

I think what I mean by seeing is very close to what Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard. For Rogers, it is possible to offer a client complete support and acceptance regardless of what they say or do. Unconditional positive regard is the firm foundation of effective therapeutic work.

a white man smiles

Celebrated and Cherished

As a therapist, I see my clients in the process of celebrating their strengths. Most of my autistic teens begin therapy with a litany of reasons they are different, "bad" or worse. Instead of getting lost in the forest of deficiencies, I invite my clients to show me what they are good at and what they love. I celebrate their artistic gifts. I revel in their passion for math and poetry. I am amazed at their fascination with D&D, 1950s movies, rats, and so many other eccentric treasures.

My celebration of their strengths and interests is a validation of their unique humanity. Part of our therapeutic work is exploring how these strengths can be used to connect with others and utilized in a meaningful vocation.

It breaks my heart to think of the number of clients that have felt despised by their peers and the larger world. Seeing my clients means that I cherish them. To cherish something is to hold something in a space of tenderness and affection. I remind my clients each session that I appreciate them and am so grateful for their time and presence with me.

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Teen Therapy Can Help

Teen Therapy can help your teen son open up. One of the ways to help them identify their emotions is by signing them up for teen therapy. A teen therapist is someone your son can trust and develop a relationship with.

A teen therapist can also work with a teen boy to help them develop goals and healthy coping strategies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT) is one of the most effective ways to work with teenagers. CBT is a short-term, problem focused approach. CBT is effective at treating a variety of problems.

Start Your Teen Therapy Journey with Quique Autrey: Katy, Tx & Houston

You and your teenage son do not have to do this alone. If you don't know what to do next, please contact me and set up your first appointment. I am here to help. I can work with your family to help bring healing and hope. I'm just off of I-10 and 99. I am centrally located for those living in Katy and Houston. To start your teen therapy journey, follow these simple steps: 1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling. 2. Schedule your first appointment with Quique Autrey. 3. Begin your teen therapy journey and start healing. Your teenage is not defined by his struggles. I want him to realize his true worth and potential. I want your son to embrace a bright future. Imagine what life will look like for your son free of his struggles.​ The mission at Katy Teen & Family Counseling is to restore hope, happiness, and connected family relationships. I look forward to starting this process of hope and healing with you!

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