How To Give Counseling To Someone With Developmental Disability


Counseling individuals with a developmental disability – e.g., autism, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and Down syndrome – is honestly tough. Your clients are mostly kids who acquired the neurological disorder from birth or several years after that. They have not lived long enough to identify how to think and behave like regular people. It may even be easier to get through to depressed or addicted folks as they at least lived a life without such a condition in the past.

It does not help either that most – if not all – developmental disabilities are incurable. It’s hard to decide if that is because the problem is too complex to resolve or there’s only a little research being done on the subject matter. The outcome is that the children who have the disorders mentioned above usually need to stay on therapy for years.

Nonetheless, in case you are new at giving counseling to someone with a developmental disability, check out the following tips.

  1. Earn Their Trust

The unfortunate truth about disabled individuals who are older than five years old is that they may have been exposed to the world. That cannot produce a positive impact on the person all the time because they get to deal with the harsh comments from other people, no matter how much their family tries to protect them. Some gaze at them pitifully; others are inconsiderate enough to talk about their flaws openly.

The thing is, whether the disability altered someone’s brain function or not, he or she can still realize at one point that strangers see them differently. It may enable them to retreat under their shell and not want to even be around mental health professionals like you. Because of that, you ought to earn their trust first.

The easiest way to do that is by not pushing the client to do the activities you laid out. It will not be the only meeting you’ll have, and perhaps he or she can become comfortable around you the more you stay in their life. You may also learn about their favorites so that it can be like a conversation starter between the two of you.

  1. Assess Non-Verbal Cues

When someone has a developmental disability, it entails that he or she has problems using his or her senses or body parts regularly. For instance, the twinkling lights that look fun for non-disabled people are triggering for folks with autism. Walking is practically impossible for cerebral palsy patients. Others have issues with their speech, behavior, and deduction process.

Even if the individual refuses or cannot speak, an excellent counselor should be able to understand the client by assessing their body language. Say, in case a patient who has never looked up when you tell a story suddenly meets your eyes, that is a sign that you got their attention. Once a child with special needs tries the activities you suggest to them, it means that the treatment is slowly but surely working.

  1. Tailor The Treatment For Each Client

You can obtain better results as well if you make every activity or discussion relatable for your clients. However, you need to ensure that the technique you will employ is custom-fit to each person’s needs.

Remember that you will never get two people who have the same case, despite their condition being under one category. They are different when it comes to the severity of the disability, their age, the trigger factors, and many more. So it is only proper to plan how the treatment should go for a specific client after a couple of sessions, not right after the first consultation.


When you give counseling to someone with a developmental disability, give it with confidence. The guidance you can offer to clients is essential for improving their lives and their future. It is impossible not to know how to do that, primarily now that you have these basic tips.

Good luck!

About the author

Professional Experience

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade; covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to target subjects related to anxiety and depression specifically.

As an editor, contributor, and writer for over 100 online publications Marie has covered topics related to depression, anxiety, stress, grief, various phobias, and difficult family circumstances. With regular content published on mental health authorities like TheMighty, Yahoo, GoodMenProject, ADAA, CCPA-ACCP, Silverts, AMHCA, etc... Marie has shown both her passion and dedication to discussing & educating topics related to mental health and wellness.

With an understanding that there is never too much information and helpful research about mental health in all of its forms, she continues to look for new and creative ways to both start discussions & engage with others about these important topics.

Before becoming an online researcher and writer, she worked as an Administrative Executive with different industries namely telecom, security workforce providers, trading companies, exclusive hotel and concierge services. After ten years of working in different industries, she decided to enter the world of freelancing in able to give more time to her precious daughter. Given this opportunity, it helped her discover and realize that she is both capable and passionate about expressing her opinions in creative and influential ways via writing.


Marie Miguel is a loyalty awardee of St. Paul College where she spent her primary and secondary education. She holds a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major in Computer Applications from De La Salle University - College of St. Benilde where she was also on the Dean's List for consecutive semesters during her college years.

"My Philosophy on Mental Health & Wellness"

It takes passion for being an expert researcher and writer of mental health related topics. Having lived through traumatic experiences in the past, it has become easier to express my opinions and findings I've discovered while researching a variety of situations and subjects. I aim to inspire every person that reads mental health & wellness related articles to provide hope in every struggle; just as my experiences have taught me. Additionally, I strive to contribute to the continual progression of mental health awareness by providing helpful information and significant resources to understand further the importance of keeping a healthy mind and well-being.


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