Saturday, 20 November 2021

Strengths-Based Approaches for Autistic Individuals


A picture of a person wearing headphones.  They have dark hair and are smiling.  The background is rainbow-coloured.

For many years, people assumed quality of life for autistic people only happened when we were 'normalised' from an early age.  This 'Early Behaviour Intervention' usually focused on improving our allegedly weak areas, and enforcing this improvement for many hours a week.

An informal Twitter poll asking autistic people if being made to use eye contact has improved their lives.  Most said a clear 'no'.

There is very little evidence of this approach leading to a better quality of life.  The informal poll shown above is a clue.  Hundreds of votes.  Did all that 'you must make eye contact' training lead to a better quality of life for them?  Hardly anyone said yes.
Below, another informal poll, again with hundreds of votes.  What about wider social skills training for us?  Did it improve our quality of life?  Hardly anyone said yes.

It's useful to ask people if something helps, isn't it.

Another informal Twitter poll asking if it helped quality of life to have our social skills normalised.  Most people said a clear no.

There is growing evidence of weakness-based approaches such as ABA leading to poor self esteem and sometimes catastrophic outcomes. Other of my blogs discuss these. This isn't difficult to understand.  In the same way, if you were described as a list of problems that had to be solved, every day of your life, you might feel depressed, anxious and exhausted.

A strengths-based approach, building on things we are good at, has an increasing fan base, amongst Professionals as well as autistic people.

There are a lot of good research papers that may help with our thinking.

Here are a few of them:

It is an important discussion for all of us to have.

How is a team going to build on my fantastic young person's strengths, as well as supporting them in any area where they need that support?

How can their hobbies and interests be a source of relaxation and joy to them, not a thing used by teams to enforce normalisation?

How can we appreciate diversity, and work collaboratively with autistic people to understand autistic culture and communication?

There are so many useful things to keep exploring, and so many more positive outcomes to be discovered.

I am grateful, as ever, for teams who are promoting this strengths-based, positive approach, and who refuse to use the negative, 'deficit and disorder' thinking of the past.

I would like every autistic individual to be safe to live their best, authentic lives, able to thrive as themselves, not as a copy of someone else.  That's a Human Rights approach, and a caring approach.  I commend it to all.