Can solution-focused hypnotherapy benefit children with autism?

Caring for a child or young person with autism or one who displays traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be a stressful and isolating experience for parents and carers. Increasingly stretched statutory services with lengthy waiting times are often leaving parents feeling at a loss to know how best to get the support their child needs. 


In this article, I will discuss how my personal experience of parenting a young person on the autism spectrum combined with my work as a solution-focused hypnotherapist (SFH) has led me to successfully support children and young people with ASD and other associated conditions. My approach has helped those young people to understand and manage anxiety, and difficult emotions and, as a result, cope better with a range of situations including school attendance, fears, and phobias. 

How does hypnotherapy support children and young people with autism?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that autism is not a disease to be cured.  "Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways" ( NAS 2022). Just like all children, autistic children have their own strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of the solution-focused approach to hypnotherapy is that it allows for individuals to be treated as just that - individuals.

Using a variety of approaches tailored to the individual’s strengths and weaknesses results in therapy that is flexible and can be adapted as needed. I work with the child or young person and their parents to find out what difficulties and challenges they would benefit most from receiving support with.

Children and young people with autism can struggle with communication and emotional regulation, and they can also think and feel differently from others, not on the spectrum. We also know that they can be more prone to issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, sensory sensitivities, and sensory overload. There is increasing evidence that solution-focused hypnotherapy is an effective way of overcoming these issues. If we take the time to understand and embrace these differences, what we often see is a wonderful sensitive human being who just requires a subtly alternative approach and for things to be done a little differently to allow them to thrive and live a wonderfully fulfilling life.

What can hypnotherapy help with?

As a solution-focused hypnotherapist, I help adults and children with a wide range of difficulties including anxiety, fears, phobias, depression, and lack of confidence. These are all issues that children and young people on the autism spectrum are prone to. There is increasing evidence that hypnotherapy is particularly useful for individuals on the spectrum (Herbert 2021). 

Non-Judgemental support for parents

A vital component of therapy being successful is rapport and trust between the therapist and the child and their parent. Prior to the initial appointment, I have a discussion with the young person’s parents to find out areas of likes and dislikes for the individual child. It is important to gain an understanding and insight into how parents are feeling and how they view the difficulties.

It could be an issue such as the child becoming upset when the parent leaves them at school. It is not uncommon for parents to feel judged or misunderstood by other parents, grandparents, and or teachers. I know from personal experience how stressful and isolating it can feel when your child does not behave in the way other children do.

Behaviour that may be perceived as negative, naughty, or bad behaviour is generally just a communication that a need is not being met or that the child has not found an alternative way to express the emotion just yet. It is important to understand what purpose the behaviour serves and then support children to find alternative ways of communicating.

It is a vital part of the process that parents feel supported and able to freely discuss their worries and concerns with a therapist who displays empathy and understanding. I believe my personal experience of parenting a young person with autism naturally makes this easier. I understand that often when parents seek help for their children, they have had years or months of battling to be heard and to get the recognition of difficulties and support for their child’s needs. The emotional impact of caring for a child or young person with autism should not be underestimated.

If we take the time to understand and embrace these differences, what we often see is a wonderful sensitive human being who just requires a subtly alternative approach and for things to be done a little differently.

I provide a non-judgemental listening space for parents where they feel heard and understood and can talk through their fears and concerns. I find that parents also benefit from the sessions in a variety of ways including time to relax and work together with their child to find solutions. One of my young clients recently commented that she "loves seeing Mum so happy" after the session.  We spend time during sessions focusing on the child’s strengths and abilities and reflecting on achievements no matter how small or inconsequential they may appear, using the approach that every achievement no matter how small it might seem. Sadly, children have often had the experience of the focus being on what they can’t do, using solution-focused therapy we concentrate on celebrating what they can do. Often these young people excel in certain areas we use these strengths during therapy to find solutions. 

The sessions can mutually benefit both parent and child. The combination of supporting parents to learn how to respond to their child’s emotions and the shared experience of trance or guided relaxation and the positive benefits this brings can have a wonderfully transformational impact. 

What happens during sessions?

The sessions are tailored to the individual's age, level of understanding likes, and dislikes. They do however follow a structure that I know is key when working with a child on the autism spectrum as it provides predictability and anticipation of what is coming next. This assists with lowering anxiety and provides familiarity and routine. The sessions usually begin with a discussion about what has been good for the child since the last appointment. This allows time to focus on positives and successes. We then go on to talk about emotions, the ability to recognise, name and describe emotions is key to learning to manage feelings successfully. I use a range of resources such as emoji cubes, emotion squashies and soft toys to talk about and describe feelings.

Techniques such as the brain house model from the Hypno4children programme are used to learn how to manage emotions when they feel overwhelmed. Both the MINDHACK and the STUDYCALM methods developed by Hypno4Children are invaluable resources when helping children to understand and manage emotional responses. Learning to recognise emotions and then having a toolbox of options to use with feeling anxious. 

The second part of the session is devoted to relaxation techniques including guided relaxation and hypnosis. This is done in different ways depending on the age of the child. Children under the age of 8 are mainly in their subconscious brains, which is a natural trance-like state, so during the hypnosis session may keep their eyes open and move around the room. Older children may want to lie on the couch or relax on a beanbag while we go through a series of relaxation exercises and guided hypnosis.

Why does solution-focused hypnotherapy work so well with individuals with Autism?

Autism is a broad-spectrum disorder and individuals who fall under this heading may have some similarities but, just like everyone else, will also have many differences. One of the reasons why SFH works so well is the basic premise and framework of each session remain the same which provides predictability for the client. Within the framework, there is flexibility to adapt and tailor the sessions to meet the client’s individual needs and tolerances. 

As a solution-focused hypnotherapist, it’s important that I demystify the process of hypnotherapy and dispel any myths or fears the parent or young person may have.  

In summary, SFH can be a positive and effective way to support the mental and emotional well-being of a child and young person on the autism spectrum. When approaching a solution-focused hypnotherapist to discuss potential therapy for your child, it's worth considering checking the therapist's experience and attitude toward working with young people with autism.

It is not necessary for the therapist to necessarily have extensive experience of working with autism, but perhaps it's more important that the therapist you choose is willing to work flexibly with you and your child to achieve the best outcome. Sessions should be relaxing and enjoyable and equip the child with strategies to help them to regulate and manage their emotions positively. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD17 5NQ
Written by Caroline Sutton, Registered Nurse HPD DSFH NLP cert CNHC (reg)
Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD17 5NQ

Caroline is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist working in Baildon , West Yorkshire. She has had a long career working as a Specialist nurse and Health Visitor with children and families . Caroline is also Mother to a Young man with autism and a learning disability

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