Autism Spectrum Disorder, like all mental health disorders, is a complex disorder to treat. Since Autism is in and of itself a developmental disorder, there are many different things that must be addressed in the course of treatment. In the process of treatment, however, there is a very crucial element is often left unaddressed by clinicians and parents alike. The strengths of the child or the individual diagnosed with the disorder are often overlooked, or even minimized because the behaviors or problems are so blatantly obvious. As a clinician myself, I know that the first instinct is to immediately focus on resolving the problem that the client brings to me for treatment. But I also find that focusing on my client’s strengths is a necessary component for treatment. This brings to mind at least two questions that need to be addressed. What are strengths of individuals with Autism? How do we recognize them?
1. Individuals with autism are highly intelligent. If you were test the intelligence levels of a child that has been diagnosed with Autism, chances are you would have a very high number. This is a very common occurrence. The mind of an individual with autism tends to hyper focus or become obsessed with a subject matter and eventually becomes an expert on it. This is why so many children diagnosed are often dubbed “little professors.” This level of intelligence when properly applied can help the individual with excelling in their career of choice, or even in school.
2. Individuals with autism can make very sound decisions. Research has shown that because people on the spectrum are very logical and linear in their thinking, they are also very good decision makers. Many individuals will not make a decision that is not logical or does not show to have some sort of concrete pay off in the end. Thus, they will research out more information and take their time to make a very concrete decision (Shah, 2016).
3. Individuals with autism are very loyal to their friends or family. While I was working as a registered behavioral technician, I had the opportunity to see children with autism interact with kids that were their friends. One key element that I saw was an intense loyalty to those kids who had accepted them and had consistently shown themselves to be friendly or caring. This is often shown by protective behaviors. For example, a child on the spectrum will constantly try to protect their friend from a supposed bully if they see that is what is happening.
4. Individuals with Autism are very excellent problem solvers and very strategic in their thinking. As stated before, individuals on the spectrum are very logical and linear with their thinking processes. This often causes many of them to try different processes that will actually achieve a desired outcome (Shah, 2016).
So how do we recognize these strengths in our children? First we have to see that our child is so much more than their diagnosis. Many times we get wrapped around the idea of the diagnosis that we tend to fail to see how our children are themselves. Does that mean that we don’t focus on correcting their behaviors and teaching better ways of doing things? Absolutely not! Instead, we focus on balancing out the good with the bad parts about the disorder and we accept them as being parts of our child’s life.
Second, we accept the things that we can’t change and focus on the things that we can. While autism is not curable it is manageable. This can require a lot of training on our parts as parents as well as seeking out extra resources to help our child manage different parts of this disorder. We also help our child learn the skills that are necessary in order to manage their own diagnosis independently.
Third, we choose to look for our child’s strengths instead of their weaknesses. While it is very easy to focus on our child’s disability and how much it tends to impact the family, it is essential to focus on our child’s abilities and uniqueness. Looking at our child in this way, helps them also build up their own sense of self-esteem despite having this disorder.
There are so many different sides to Autism, some that we have not even fully discovered yet. It is true that this disorder can be complex and frustrating to deal with at times, but it can also be a very rewarding journey to see how our child grows and develops despite these different challenges. Remember, your child is not their diagnosis. There is so much more to them in terms of character and personality then what is presented with autism.