Strengths Along the Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has disorder in the very name.  Otherwise known as a developmental disability, or a social/emotional handicap, many times the communication about ASD includes conversations about deficits, inabilities, and weaknesses.  Yet along with difficulties, individuals on the spectrum present with many diverse strengths.  Focusing on the abilities, as opposed to the disability, and using a strengths based approach, means increasing capabilities, autonomy, and overall well-being.  It is hard to be universal, as there is so much individual variability within ASD, yet listed below are some of the strengths and positives that go along with an autism diagnosis.

Passions and interests:  A facet of an autism diagnosis includes restricted interests, or stereotyped interests.  What that means is: an intense, focused area of interest.  This intense focus allows for a specialization and a true passion.  Sometimes the interests change and vary – that’s ok!  That happens with neurotypical individuals too!  There can be a worry that this intense focus may be socially isolating – not everyone is as into this passion as the person with ASD is.  Yet this also means a quick shorthand between the ASD person and others who DO share that interest. Activities like programming and coding, robotics, or animal care can create a community that is welcoming of this intense interest – and a person with ASD can quickly become the “expert,” building confidence within the relationships.

Adherence to Structure:  Something that is often discussed with ASD is a rigidity or an adherence to routines.  This can be frustrating for a parent or family member who is looking for spontaneity, but the benefit of the structure means reduced anxiety.  A rigid adherence to routines means that once the behavior, habit, or expectation is acquired and established, its something that you can usually count on.  It might be difficult to teach a child with ASD hygiene steps such as face washing, or teeth brushing.  Once its mastered, though, it is unlikely that a person with ASD will drop this behavior from their routine.  The routines are calming and comforting, and you can count on a person with ASD to do what they say they will (within reason).

Detail Oriented, Different Thinkers: While this isn’t universal – as many teachers and parents can attest to, frustrated that their ASD student still isn’t writing his or her name on their homework – we can usually count on someone with ASD to think differently.  This out of the box thought process makes for some of the best software testers, “bug” finders, and system analysts.  There is a theory that many of the greatest minds and innovators were likely on the spectrum.  Take Temple Grandin, PhD, known as “the most famous person with Autism.”  Her ability to look at an established system – the process of slaughtering animals – and improve upon that system with her unique world view has in turn helped with our farming, food industry, and animal and human well-being.  We find that those on the spectrum tend to have a unique – and often profound – artistic expression, as well.

There is often a grieving process that correlates with a new diagnosis of ASD in a family – and typically an evaluation feedback session includes explanation of the deficits a person has, a comparison of the individual and neurotypical peers, and an emphasis on all of the treatments and therapies that can help an individual thrive within their world.  However, a time to focus on the strengths is important in this process as well.  Each person has strengths, including those with ASD, and the appropriate acceptance and understanding of these strengths, can help individuals and families flourish.