I work as a counselor for autistic teenage girls—here’s what they’ve taught me

I have the privilege of being a direct care counselor for teenage girls residing within a therapeutic group home. Some of my clients have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The Center of Disease Control defines autism spectrum disorder (abbreviated as ASD) as a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. While I am guiding, supervising, mentoring and providing life skills training to my clients, I am also learning.  Here are some of the lessons that being a counselor to teenage girls with autism has taught me.

There’s no shame in embracing what you love

Individuals on the autism spectrum can perseverate over—or fixate on—certain topics, individuals, or items that they enjoy. That means if someone, say, loves castles, they will spend hours telling you about castle structure and where the best castle is. While perseveration may not always be the most appropriate thing to do while out in the community, working with my clients has taught me to find no shame in loving what I love, whether it is Arthurian Legend or my secret desire to chilly down with the Fire Gang. Embrace what you’re into.

Dance whenever you want

As a counselor, it is my job to remind my clients when they should use their coping mechanisms when they are feeling overwhelmed. One of the most common coping mechanisms my clients use is dancing. When my clients dance, a smile is brought to their face, as well as my own.  Because of this, I have learned that you should dance when you want to, as dancing is another avenue to bring joy to yourselves and others.

Follow your own rainbow

Those with autism spectrum disorders have been described as having an “atypical” view on the world. But you know what that atypical view is? Pretty amazing, actually. By following their own rainbows, my clients have taught me a lot about subjects I previously knew nothing about. These subjects range from Demi Lovato, Adobo, and Siberian Husky dogs. By following your own rainbow, you give those around you the opportunity to learn something new.

I try to guide each of my clients on a path that enables them to be their best self, and teach them the skills they need to succeed. That being said, more often than not, it is I who am the student, and my clients are the teachers. Last weekend, one of my clients pulled me aside and told me that I had changed her life for the better. Through the lessons that my client has taught me, she has changed my life for the better too.

[Image via iStock]