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Does EMDR Benefit a Child with Autism?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an advanced clinical technique that offers potential benefits to children with autism. This type of therapy traces its origins back several decades when it was suggested as a strategy to help individuals deal with the overwhelming symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent research suggests that EMDR is not only a workable option for managing stress disorders in people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but may also function as a basic therapy tool to curb some of the standard symptoms of ASD.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Importance of Individualized Diagnosis and Therapy

As a spectrum disorder, there is no universal therapy or treatment strategy appropriate for all cases of autism. Children and adults should receive a formal assessment and diagnosis from a professional before pursuing a specific course of treatment. While there’s little to lose by exploring EMDR therapy for younger ASD patients, it should be done as part of a broader plan to encourage long-term growth and development. Families and caregivers should make sure they find EMDR and other intervention services offered by qualified and credentialed professionals.

Addressing Trauma and Stress in ASD Patients

Individuals with autism are just as prone to experiencing traumatic events or succumbing to external stress factors as anyone else, and a lack of social skills or behavioral control can make it harder to address. As EMDR proves itself a relatively safe and effective therapy for both adults and children, it has become increasingly applied to help young ASD patients overcome undue psychological stress associated with prior experiences. Some recent case studies show a significant improvement in patient symptoms associated with PTSD following a course of EMDR treatment, although further research is required to verify its efficacy on a broader sample size, according to the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services.

EMDR as Part of Conventional Autism Therapy

Aside from its conventional use as a therapeutic aid in dealing with trauma and stress disorders, EMDR may also be able to help autism patients overcome some intrinsic aspects of their disorder. Some inappropriate social behaviors are linked to certain memories or thought patterns similar to those that impact individuals suffering from traumatic disorders. Since eye movement desensitization and reprocessing focuses on managing this type of psychological habit, it has the potential to offer therapists an entirely new tool for helping clients develop a healthier mental state.

Continuous Assessment and Program Development

While the available research suggests that EMDR could have significant positive implications for younger ASD patients, there are still a lot of unknowns about long-term results. Positive results in a large sample size don’t necessarily mean this type of therapy will benefit a particular child either, so progress must be assessed on an individual basis. Therapists who incorporate emerging techniques and strategies must keep careful track of each patient’s progress towards established treatment goals and take an active role in educating families or caregivers about results.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has a particular appeal for therapists focusing on ASD because of relatively simple client interactions. Much like applied behavior analysis (ABA), it involves the manipulation of a person’s physiological and psychological state through the consistent application of basic scientific principles. Methodical and responsible EMDR therapy can be beneficial to children with autism by encouraging productive adaptations of various thought and behavioral patterns.