If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
If your partner has autism spectrum disorder, good news: they can absolutely be hypnotized and can have a great experience. All that’s required is meeting them on their terms.
Autistic people have historically drawn the short end of the stick in hypnosis, and have been given the "analytical" or "resistant" label. Part of the reason for that is that they probably have sensory and cognitive processing that is different from neurotypicals. Some assumptions and techniques commonly in use will either be ineffective or counterproductive. Here are some common issues.
Autistic people often have sensory processing disorder. They find too much sensory input confusing and even painful, and may have a different relationship with interoception. Their subjective experience of hypnosis may be very different, and in particular, they may not experience hypnosis as a distinct "trance" sensation in the same way. They may be unable to filter out background conversation or noise during an induction, and may need very specific items (a special chair) and circumstances (no sunlight through window) to feel comfortable being hypnotized.
Autistic people often have trouble with neurotypical communication styles, which can contain baffling attempts to establish authority, engage in seemingly meaningless small-talk, and parcel out needed information piecemeal.
Autistic people have problems with neurotypical rapport, which can cause misunderstandings and lack of responsiveness. This should not be a problem if you know your partner well, but if you have just met then you should not use hypnosis as a rapport building exercise.
Some autistic people may have problems with pathological demand avoidance (PDA), where anything seen as a demand or a request can be overwhelming. This can cause issues in giving suggestions in hypnosis.
Autistic people can have active "head voices" that can be self-critical and can cause thought loops that distract from the induction and session.
Many hypnotists rely on non-verbal signals from people to indicate when something isn’t working right. Autistic people may have a flat affect that can be disconcerting to neurotypicals who are looking for social communication through visual tics or shifts in body language.
The best way to interest an autistic person to give them something to learn and a new skill to pick up. Providing rich sources of information and a clear end-to-end explanation of what happens in hypnosis is the best way to get them started. This should happen well before the session, and you should give them time to ask follow-up questions and do research. Explain everything.
Autistic people are often very happy to follow suggestions as long as there’s a good reason why. You can explain response sets and the role of automaticity in following suggestions, and this will provide a reason for why your partner is being asked to do meaningless things like arm levitation and eye locks. Autistic people also appreciate clear and simple rules, and the idea that there are clear rules gives the mind something to focus on.
There are some hypnosis books which assert that you must assert your authority as a hypnotist and establish compliance in your subject. This is a very bad idea if your partner is autistic, as autistic people tend not to understand authority. Avoid any kind of appeal to authority if you can help it.
Ambiguity of language can be very frustrating for autistic people. Ericksonian language patterns and NLP may irritate them or cause them to become anxious and try multiple lines of analysis to try and resolve the multiple meanings. Some may find suggestions that multiply depth by a number i.e. "ten times as deep" to be mathematically impossible.
Instead, use direct communication and explain what you want them to do as clearly as possible, with no magic or flourishes.
Self-stimulating behavior aka stims can be a good source of utilization. If your partner is restless and is engaging in stim behavior during the session, have them focus on that behavior, and create an induction around that repeated behavior. For example, you can have them relax deeper into trance every time they stim.
Stims are also great examples of automaticity and involuntary behavior, and so you can leverage that into suggesting that they have the urge to stim in response to a trigger, and that urge will get stronger and stronger until they finally stim.
Long periods of inactivity and attempts at "deepening" may backfire as the brain may slip into perseveration or rumination. If it’s not interesting to your partner, don’t do it.
All responses during the session are valid, and should be taken as an opportunity to explore further. Hypnotic suggestibility is multidimensional, and people may have different things that they are best at. For example, some people may be good at motive suggestions, while others are good at hallucinations and visualization, or evoking physiological responses like goosebumps and shivering.
Since autistic people are used to with hyperfocus and flow, they may have a different experience of trance to neurotypicals, and may find the state of being hypnotized to be familiar or unremarkable. This is not to say that all autistic people have the same experience, and some people hyperfocusing on trance may inadvertently deepen themselves and lose track of what the hypnotist is saying. Trance can also vary during the session, depending on what captures the attention of the hypnotee.
Do not worry about whether your partner is in a deep or light trance, as it does not impact suggestibility and your partner’s experience is about more than just trance. It’s about having fun.
Because your partner may have flat affect, you may not be able to tell when something is bothering your partner or if your partner has lost focus. Check-in frequently to make sure you understand their mental and physical state and ask them to tell you if they’re not comfortable.
Work to your partner’s strengths, especially their special interests. This is what captivates them and engages them. If your partner is interested in trains, try an induction based around train schedules. If your partner is interested in computers, describe suggestions in terms of self-modifying code. And so on.
This can be very individual, as using the wrong terminology or making people think about "workbrain thinky" things can lead your partner’s thoughts in the wrong direction. Your partner will probably be happy to assist you if you’re stuck.
Some autistic people have different thought processes that may make suggestions more difficult. Temple Grandin famously thinks in pictures, but other autistic people may think in sensory fragments, or even synesthesia. Deepeners can be very personally intrusive when numbers are also colors and unwanted smells.
The same goes for the way that autistic people process emotions. Many autistic people have alexithymia and may have difficulty understanding what feelings they have in the moment.
Many hypnotic suggestions build on interoceptive ambiguity. When the default state is fragmented ambiguity, there may be not be the same instinct to resolve internal or external perception to a particular viewpoint. One way to frame hypnotic ambiguity is to explicitly point out to the brain that it can decide on reality when things are fuzzy and ambiguous, and therefore can decide reality generally.