Elaine Nicholson, MBE
MA, PGC, DMS, MBACP, FRSPH,
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours published in June 2016, I was made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, for services to Education and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). This was a very proud moment for me and was completely unexpected. I was particularly pleased as this was the first Queen’s honour to be awarded for Asperger’s Syndrome specifically; moreover the award gave the Asperger’s community some recognition, which was important, bearing in mind that the diagnostic label of Asperger’s Syndrome was removed from the DSM5 (bible of psychiatry) in May 2013 and thereafter fell under the clinical descriptor that is known as ‘autism spectrum disorder’.
After the discovery of Asperger’s Syndrome in my own family, I decided to formalise my familial knowledge, and it was in November 2010 that I attained a PGC in Asperger’s Syndrome from Sheffield Hallam University. In July 2012, and at the same University, I attained a Master of Arts (MA) in Autism. My Master’s subject was ‘a bespoke model of counselling for lives that have become adversely affected by the experience of Asperger’s Syndrome’. I am also a Certificated (Merit) Counsellor from Leicester University (2005), and on a yearly basis I endeavour to undertake a number of Continuing Professional Development courses on various counselling-related matters which helps to keep my knowledge current. In 2005-2007 I spent two years studying on a MSc Child and Adolescent Psychodynamic Counselling course with Birkbeck, London University, but decided not to continue studying this particular counselling methodology after my youngest child was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, at which point I decided, based on what I had learnt, that this type of mind therapy (psychodynamic) was incongruous for persons on the autistic spectrum.
In September 2017 I began what will be a 6-year training in body psychotherapy with the UKCP accredited Cambridge Body Psychotherapy Centre (undertaken via weekend working). I am enjoying this course of study immensely and it fits beautifully with the AfA counselling model, taking into account the physiological (sensory) needs of the human experience. In the years 2017 and 2018, I also achieved certification in hypno-psychotherapy and completed training in EMDR therapy, through the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.
I have in excess of two thousand hours of AS and non-AS counselling under my belt. I am also ADOS-2 trained through Pearson Assessment under the tutelage of Dr. Fiona Scott (September 2014).
I am passionate not only about helping lives affected by autism/AS, but am also passionate about raising autism awareness. As a consequence, in 2013/2014 I did undertake an Award in Education and Training Level 3 (enabling me to competently teach the subject of autism in the 16+ sector) and have passed Level One Certificate (modules 1, 2 & 3) in British Sign Language so that I may help deaf autists. I am a philanthropist and really care about autistic people and their loved ones.
In my pre-counselling working life, I worked for many years as a Medical Manager in Doctors’ surgeries. I was also a freelance writer for magazines such as GP, Pulse, and Practice Manager on practice management related subjects. From my own experience, I can say that in my lifetime I have encountered quite a large number of ‘Aspergery’ thinking Doctors; indeed, from a ‘cleverness’ point of view, an AS person’s knowledge base is usually vast and immense, verging on genius level! All I can say is this: If I should need major medical investigations in the future, I hope my main clinical contact will be a man or woman with an Asperger’s frame of mind…that way, I will be reassurred that all relevant clinical data will be scrutinised and (sorry my AS readers for using this metaphor) ‘no stone will be left unturned!’
Setting aside the ‘science’ of the above, I believe my best qualification is that of ‘life’ ~ of my living with Asperger’s Syndrome in my own family. I would also add, that amongst the cognoscenti of AS experts out there, feedback from clients is that it is my familial understanding of the AS condition that comes through ‘loud and clear’, and clients feel that they have genuine empathic support. I do not close my ‘autistic’ office door each day and go home to a ‘neurotypical’ life; my personal life is a 24/7 AS experience, which a lot of clients have remarked they find reassuring knowing that I am in a similar place emotionally to them. Indeed, there are times when I can say that I have lived amongst this ‘different’ mind-set for so long that I have become what I call ‘Aspergerised‘, and this, of course, has enabled me to understand rather well the difficulties experienced by AS people living in the mainly neurotypical world. On the other hand, I am in reality a neurotypical person (NT), and can also empathise with other NTs who experience life with AS persons as taxing.
Our work is pro-bono and donation-lead and demand for our service is high. Our way of working is eclectic and client-friendly and is more akin to CBT than any other therapy. While I have written articles and given talks about our specific counselling model, I am yet to write a book on the subject, though publication of such a piece of work is only a matter of time, and it is time that I need for this task; a short Sabbatical may be necessary!
Elaine (centre) pictured with ‘Stavros Flatley’ who were helping to raise funds for Action for Asperger’s in June, 2011.
Simon Baron-Cohen, a world renowned academic in the field of autism and who is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge (he is Director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) in Cambridge) said of Action for Asperger’s in 2008 that it is a ‘valuable new resource’.
Professor Tony Attwood (author of The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, JKP, 2007) has this to say about Action for Asperger’s: ‘I think the idea of a counselling service for those affected by Asperger’s syndrome is an excellent idea. We desperately need experienced counsellors in this area and your webpage and service is addressing a need that is becoming increasingly recognized by both professionals and families affected by Asperger’s syndrome’.
I hope I have apprised you sufficiently about me, my credentials, and my charity’s intentions. I am passionate about the plight of families and friendships that are under strain as a consequence of Asperger’s Syndrome/autism being a feature in their day-to-day lives. Action for Asperger’s cannot ‘cure’, but can assuage, offer comfort, support, hope and belief, where and when it is needed.
BACP Healthcare magazine, October 2016. What works when counselling autistic lives?
Term Times magazine, November 2013:
Term Times, October 2013
Other Patrons and Trustees include:
Mr. Gary Numan
Dame Vivienne Westwood, DBE, RDI
Dr. Barbara Jacobs
Mr. Scott James
Mr. Neil Bastow
Mr. Anthony Mathieson
Miss Jane Letts
Mrs Frances Mackenzie
Ms. Rachel Duffy
Mr. Michael Chard