When we talk about autism we often focus on the challenges that autistic people face. But we know that they have strengths. Focusing on these can be beneficial. We've worked with Curtin University in Australia and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden to explain why we should look at both strengths and challenges when assessing someone's needs, and how strengths-based support could help.
Many autistic people have strengths, abilities and interests that non-autistic people don't have. Everyone is different, but some common autistic strengths are:
- attention to detail
- visual perception
- creative and artistic talents
- mathematical and technical abilities.
- interests or expertise in ‘niche’ areas
- character strengths such as honesty and loyalty.
What we know
Despite these strengths, on average, autistic people have a lower quality of life than non-autistic people and are more likely to experience mental health problems. By focusing only on challenges, we could be causing stigma and limiting people's potential.
Research suggests that strengths-based interventions could help autistic people improve their self-esteem, confidence, social life and life skills. It seems particularly important to focus on the autistic person's interests and allow them to have control.
For example, researchers in Australia have explored running coding clubs with autistic people who have strong IT skills, to help them into employment.
What we need to do
There are many ways in which we can take a strengths-based approach, such as:
- develop strengths-based outcome measures for interventions
- assess autistic people's strengths as well as their difficulties
- test interventions to help autistic people to build on their strengths
We have developed a detailed set of recommendations for the Government and other key organisations. We want more research and services to start considering autistic people as a whole - as people with both strengths and challenges.
"Many individuals on the spectrum grow up regularly hearing about what their problems are."
When we put people to their strengths and give them the right environment to do so, they excel and flourish. It just makes sense.
Thank you to Curtin University Autism Research Group and The Centre of Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the Karolinska Institute for their support on this briefing.