Autism Coaches and Experts

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The moment you learn that your child has autism, you're plunged into a whole new world of diagnostic terms, legal documents, and acronyms for everything from school programs to therapies.

You discover that there are many opinions about the best way to parent, treat, and educate a child with autism—and you learn that people with autism can be radically different from one another, so the therapy or classroom setting that works well for one child may be useless for another.

Once your child with autism is an adult, they are living in a world that may be extremely difficult to navigate. This is particularly true for adults with high functioning autism who may be able to handle college courses and complex jobs but who nevertheless find it incredibly difficult to navigate personal relationships, plan for the future, or manage day-to-day challenges.

Autism coaches work with both parents and adults on the spectrum to help them navigate the challenges they face over time. Sometimes called "autism experts," most coaches are a combination of knowledgeable advisors and emotional support providers. For many people, an autism coach can be a terrific resource, particularly during times of stress and change.

Overview of Autism Coaching

Autism coaches are, essentially, expert guides to living in the autism world. But because the autism world is so diverse and complex, there are autism coaches or experts in many different specialties.

You may find that you're more than capable of handling certain aspects of life with autism but need help in others--and there's a good chance that you'll find an autism coach or expert who can help.

Autism Coaching Credentials

It is important to know that there is no meaningful credential available for autism coaching per se. That's not to say that autism coaches have no credentials—many are social workers, special education teachers, psychologists, therapists, or even lawyers (depending on their area of expertise).

Others are experts in areas that are important to autism parents but require no credentialing. For example, there are people who specialize in housing options for adults on the spectrum.

If someone claims to be a "certified autism expert" or "credentialed autism coach," ask them to give you more information about their credential.

There's a good chance they have a legitimate credential in, for example, special education, behavioral therapy, or psychology—but there's also a possibility that their "credential" involved no more than a few hours of online reading and the payment of a few hundred dollars for a certificate.

The fact that someone doesn't have a "credential" in autism coaching does not mean they can't help you. But a person who has no credential other than an online class and diploma is unlikely to know more than you do about life on the autism spectrum.

Types of Autism Coaches and Experts

The needs of people on the spectrum and their caregivers are very wide-ranging, so it's not surprising to find a wide range of people hanging out their shingles as coaches and experts. Here are just some of the areas in which you'll find people ready to provide help, guidance, and advocacy for a fee:

  • Early childhood interventions: Where to find funding, best programs, best therapies, etc.
  • School-related support for parents and children: How to create an effective IEP, how to navigate in-school challenges and resources, non-legal advocacy in schools and agencies
  • Transition expertise: People who have specific knowledge of the process by which children with autism transition to adult services and can provide direction, resources, and advocacy
  • Overall support for teens and adults on the spectrum: Can run the gamut from emotional support to social skills training to vocational coaching to help with establishing and maintaining independence
  • Overall support for parents of children with autism: Can include emotional support, direction and resources, parent training, financial direction, help with managing complex agency requirements, and more
  • Legal advice and advocacy regarding IEPs, guardianship, social security, creation of trusts, and long-term legal planning

Paying for Autism Coaches and Experts

Autism coaching can be expensive (over $100 per hour) if it is provided by a private individual or organization and is not included in your health insurance. On the other hand, there are several ways to fund autism coaching depending on its purpose and on the provider. For example:

  • Behavioral and cognitive therapy are often paid for by health insurance, and many social workers, psychologists, and therapists can and do provide coaching as part of their services.
  • Some kinds of coaching and support and provided free of charge through school districts. These may include vocational coaching, support in learning skills of daily living, social skills training and groups, etc.
  • There are some organizations that provide autism coaching and expertise on a sliding scale; use Google and/or ask your school district or Autism Society chapter for specific local services.

Coaches for Adults on the Spectrum

The majority of people who call themselves autism coaches are social workers, therapists, or psychologists who work directly with teens and adults on the autism spectrum to help them build skills, manage frustrations, and generally find success at home, in college, at work, and in the community.

Some people refer to themselves as autism life coaches: people with the knowledge, credentials, and skills to help adults on the spectrum develop and reach their own goals. This process can be difficult for people with high functioning autism because of specific challenges that go along with autism.

For example, many people on the spectrum have difficulty with:

  • Executive functioning: The process of prioritizing and planning which is crucial to college, work, and independent living
  • Coping with sensory assaults: Managing the noise, lights, and crowds that are a part of contemporary daily life
  • Connecting socially: Developing skills, making connections, and finding people who are compatible as friends and romantic partners
  • Understanding and responding appropriately to social cues: Such as non-verbal communication, sarcasm, jokes, and signals of romantic interest or lack of interest
  • Setting goals: Thinking realistically and practically about potential career and personal goals, and creating a realistic path to success
  • Maintaining motivation: Feeling and acting on the desire to set and achieve goals, even small goals such as organizing personal space or learning to cook something new
  • Managing the challenges of independent living: Such as paying bills, managing money, paying taxes, shopping for food, clothing, and other necessities, recognizing and managing health issues, etc.

While many coaches use an eclectic approach to help their clients, others make use of existing tools to help their clients set goals, identify strengths and challenges, and overcome issues.

One such tool is the Life Management Assistance Program (LifeMAP), created by the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE). According to their website: "The ultimate goal of LifeMAP is for clients to improve their quality of life, increase their independence, and progress toward reaching their full potential."

GRASP, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, offers both full-price and discounted coaching sessions for adults with high functioning autism and their parents. In addition to the issues described above, GRASP also provides support for autistic couples and for parents on the autism spectrum.

Autism Coaches and Experts for Parents

Autism coaches and experts who work with and for parents may also be psychologists or social workers who are helping parents to manage their feelings about parenting a child or adult on the spectrum.

This may be especially appropriate in situations in which autism is particularly disruptive or difficult to manage, or in situations in which parents and their children on the spectrum have a difficult time connecting or communicating.

Much of the time, however, parents hire autism coaches and experts because they are coping with complex questions or challenges that require very specific knowledge and resources. For example:

  • Coaches with experience and knowledge in the field of special education can work with parents to review IEPs, provide advocacy in an IEP meeting, suggest appropriate in-school services and accommodations, or even suggest appropriate classroom or outside settings for individual autistic students.
  • Coaches with in-depth knowledge of the transition process will be able to explain how parents should work with schools to create a transition plan, what should be in the plan, which agencies to work with, and what services will be most appropriate for a particular child. They may even be able to recommend specific agency-funded programs or resources and help parents access them.
  • Coaches with a good knowledge of housing options for adults with autism (especially in a local area) can recommend appropriate housing options, explain local and federal voucher systems, help vet group homes or other independent living situations, suggest groups to join, and more.
  • Special needs law experts can help guide parents through the morass of complex decisions surrounding guardianship, health proxies, powers of attorney, special needs trusts, ABLE plans, life insurance, and wills. All of these are very important to address as an autistic child becomes an adult--but can be difficult to manage for anyone without specific training.

How to Find an Autism Coach

One good place to start when looking for a general autism coach to work with you or your child is the newly formed Asperger/Autism Professional Coaching Association, a program of AANE.

The association includes life coaches, psychologists, social workers, behavioral specialists, vocational counselors, and therapists all of whom have specific experience working with autistic individuals and their families. GRASP is also a good source for resources through their coaching program, particularly for adults with high functioning autism.

If you're looking for a specific type of coach or expert, it makes sense to tap your school district and/or Google to find some potential names. Before moving forward, however, check with other families in your local area for reviews and recommendations.

Ask any potential provider for references, and check on them. Not only are you looking for someone who is reputable and reliable, but you're also looking for someone who really understands your situation and the laws, funding sources, resources, and pitfalls in your particular geographical location.

A Word From Verywell

Coaching can be a lifesaver, especially when families are under stress or don't have the knowledge or resources to make smart decisions. It's important to bear in mind, though, that no coach can make decisions for you or your autistic child—nor should they. The best decisions involve all stakeholders: not only parents and their advisors but also children and adults on the spectrum.

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