A teenager was struggling to cope with his friends’ casual and changeable attitude towards arrangements.
According to Luke’s parents the friends were just being fairly thoughtless teenagers but he was taking these incidents as personal slights and also as an indication that they didn’t really like him.
Luke was around 16 years old and a really bright and likeable young person. He was well able to manage the practical elements of his life at school but, in common with many others on the ASD spectrum he had problems in coping with the social aspects. He shared many of the typical Autistic traits and the ones that were causing him difficulty at that time were taking things too literally and also having too high expectations of the constancy of his ‘friends’ and classmates.
He would make arrangements with his friends to meet up and do something and he would always go to the meeting place at the appointed time only to find that the others thought it was fine to be half an hour late or, on one specific occasion, find that he was the only one who had actually turned up!
Luke would take the arrangements as being written in stone whereas seemingly the others thought that they had agreed that they might do this or that or they might do something else and might just change their minds at the last minute!
He felt let down and was inconsolable
On one occasion he stood on the same spot outside a shop at the local shopping centre for an hour and a half waiting in vain for his ‘friends’ to arrive. Eventually in some distress he called his Dad who picked him up and took him home. Of course anybody would have been upset and annoyed to have been ‘stood up’ but this lad was quite inconsolable and for several days was unable to go back to school because he thought everybody hated him!
So what did Luke and I do?
Just as in any other therapy, firstly we talked about this event and other similar problems and discussed different ways of interpreting their behaviour and also finding helpful ways of coping instead of becoming overly distressed. And, in a very solution focused way, I got him to describe in some detail how he thought his life would improve once he was able to accept that very many (young) people do not always mean literally what they say and may change their minds at the very last minute. He agreed that to accept this concept would bring him less disappointment although the idea of not really meaning what you say was quite alien to him!
The difference between other talking therapies and hypnotherapy was that after the discussion I guided him very easily and gently into a state of calm and relaxation where I gave him lots of positive suggestions for being able to cope with change more easily.
I also gave him suggestions for extra resilience when things didn’t go as expected, particularly when he himself could see no logical reason for change, and included suggestions for being patient with other people and their changeable moods and decisions. He began to accept that he shouldn’t take this personally … it was just their way and didn’t reflect on him in any way.
The metaphor of the mind as a mental computer
I did all of this within a metaphor for re-programming his reactions just as if his brain was an iPad. This type of metaphor is usually very well received as very often electronic devices are very popular with people on the ASD spectrum.
‘Programming’ more resourceful reactions
So I asked him to imagine that his brain was like an iPad and to find the program for coping with changes. I got him to delete any over-anxious or over-angry responses and then replace them with calm reactions such as ‘I can stay calm and confident when arrangements are changed at the last moment’. ‘I can learn to cope with last minute change even if it doesn’t seem logical’. ‘I can remember to check arrangements at the last minute because many people change their minds’. ‘If people change their minds they don’t intend this to be hurtful. It’s just the way they are. It has nothing to do with me’
So he did all of this while in the relaxed yet focused state of mind known as hypnosis and enjoyed the sense of being in control that he got from advance planning of more positive and helpful reactions.
Visualisation of success and coping better with disappointment
We followed it up with having him look at the ‘mental computer screen’ with several scenes of him taking things in his stride, successfully coping with various kinds of unexpected situations and also managing disappointment more resourcefully. Also scenes of him doing a bit of advance planning by double checking arrangements before setting off to meet somewhere.
On-going support through tailor-made hypnotherapy audios
Finally and very importantly I gave him self-esteem boosting suggestions that he could also program into his mental iPad. I recorded this relaxing metaphorical therapy so that he could listen to it regularly at bedtime to reinforce what we did in the session and to give him on-going support.
I cannot emphasise enough the value of continuing support through audios and I know that many of my clients continue to listen to them months, and sometimes even years, after receiving them! Tailor-made audios are clearly the ideal but an excellent and cheaper way of benefitting from this approach is to listen to one of the many published self-help audios available from our shop … all of these have been written and recorded by me based on more than twenty years of clinical experience.