Adults with Autism Explain Sources of Childhood Trauma

February 07, 2022

Individuals on the Spectrum Experience Trauma Differently than the Neurotypical

It makes sense that individuals with autism encounter and experience childhood trauma differently than those not on the spectrum. However, little research has been conducted that demonstrates how this trauma differs for people with autism. A study published last month examined this compelling topic. A research team conducted extensive interviews of adults with autism, as well as caregivers of children and adults on the spectrum. Their goal was to identify potential sources of childhood trauma for people with autism and to evaluate the ability of a standard trauma measure to understand those experiences. In all, 14 adults with autism and 15 caregivers were interviewed about their experiences with childhood trauma. Participants also completed the Trauma History Questionnaire, the PTSD Diagnostic Scale or the Child PTSD Symptom Scales in order to provide a standard measure. Participants described mixed sources of trauma. Some sources of trauma were traditional: physical abuse, bullying, injury and illnesses. However other sources of trauma were distinctly related to autism: feelings of being trapped (physically restrained), feelings of helplessness (sedation), social exclusion (being kept from others or thwarted social belonging), sensory experiences (haircuts, fire alarms, or ointments), and environmental instability (housing instability or homelessness). Interestingly, all adults and most caregivers described sources of trauma in interviews that were not addressed on the standard measures. These findings have implications for assessing traumatic events associated with autism and for understanding how past trauma contributes to the mental health of people on the spectrum. The study’s authors hope that their research will lead to future trauma-focused treatments for those on the spectrum in need.


Original Study

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