Mental Health Services

AuSM's highly trained, certified therapists have committed their careers to helping individuals with autism understand their diagnosis and address both the challenges and gifts that it can bring. 

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AuSM Mental Health Services 
Barbara L. Photo 
Sara Pahl, MS, BCaBA, NCC

Beth Pitchford, MA
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Ask The Therapist

Dear Tamara,

I am exhausted and overwhelmed. Our 16-year old son has a diagnosis of autism. Though our son has gained many skills over the years, I still see areas of need and to be honest I am running out of steam. I certainly don't want my son to fail but I am having difficulty managing the ongoing needs of my family and staying motivated.

Do you have any suggestions for me?

-Exhausted and Overwhelmed

Dear Exhausted and Overwhelmed,

Thank you for your note. You are not alone. Caring for our loved ones with autism is undoubtedly very stressful. There is pressure to obtain interventions and difficulty knowing which type of intervention is right for each child. There are what seem to be endless waiting lists and it's difficult to predict future outcomes. Every day may feel like a race against time. 

As you have experienced, this type of intensity is difficult and unrealistic to maintain long term. When caring for others it is crucial to recognize and take care of your own needs as well. That means recognizing and managing your own stress. 

Stress is the body's fight or flight response that comes and goes based on circumstances. Big stress happens as a response to major life events (diagnosis, job loss or gain, moving, etc). Small stress (being late, clutter, traffic, misplacing items, etc.) is experienced on a day to day basis and can be cumulative in its effect if not addressed. Stress often comes from things that feel outside of our control, such as raising a child with special needs.

The ability to handle small stressors is a predictor of wellness. If you aren't taking time to care for yourself, you will feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

Learning what is and is not in our control and letting go of "shoulds" is a good place to start reducing your stress. Do you feel like it is your responsibility to make everyone in the family happy? Feeling responsible but not having control can lead to burnout and exhaustion.

When something starts to cause stress, ask yourself: Is this a disaster or bump in the road? Is this fixable or not? Often, changing our view of a situation can change the level of stress we feel about it. 

  1. Determine if/why you need to control the situation or behavior.
  2. Understand that letting go does not equal giving up. 
  3. Sometimes "Good enough" really is "Good enough". 
  4. Keep realistic expectations. 
  5. Ask for and allow others to help. 
  6. Learn to understand and acknowledge your feelings. 
Individuals who create a plan for dealing with their emotions experience less stress than those who do not. This can mean looking to parent support groups, finding your own therapist, or just asking for help. 

Tamara Phillips, MA, LMFT
Parent/Caregiver Stress Management Class
Mondays, March 15-April 28, 2016
6:30-7:45 p.m.
Location: AuSM's Office in St. Paul

To address the need for stress management, AuSM is offering a new group specifically designed to help parents raising children with autism and other challenges to decrease their own stress. 

The sessions will include the use of Positive Adult Development (PAD), a new curriculum created to help parents of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, manage stress. PAD incorporates evidence-based interventions from the field of positive psychology and emphasizes ways to temper such emotions as guilt, conflict, worry, and pessimism by identifying and using character strengths and virtues, using strengths in new ways, and by practicing exercises involving gratitude, forgiveness, grace, and optimism.

Click here for more information and to register for this class. Registrations will be accepted through March 11.
The AuSM Mental Health Services Team offers therapy and support:
  • Diagnostic, functional or behavioral assessments for children, adolescents, and adults
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Behavior consultation
  • Marriage and couples therapy
  • Training for organizations and service providers
To inquire about our services or to make an appointment please contact AuSM at 651.647.1083 or e-mail 
Established in 1971, the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) is a self-funded organization committed to education, advocacy and support designed to enhance the lives of those affected by autism from birth through retirement.